A reader wrote to me asking about the English translation of voyoucratie, a word uttered on 29 December by French president Nicolas Sarkozy after the recent riots:

Ce qui s’est passé à Villiers-le-Bel n’a rien à voir avec une crise sociale, ça a tout à voir avec la voyoucratie
(What happened in Villiers-le-Bel has nothing to do with a social crisis and everything to do with voyoucratie)

It is made up of voyou (hooligan) and –cratie (from Greek kratos "a rule, regime, power"). It means a system ruled by a group that doesn’t respect the rule of law.

Laura K. Lawless, from the excellent French Language pages of About.com, translates it in English as "thuggery, rule by thugs/hoodlums". I think the -cratie element is crucial in the French word, as it implies that the unruly elements in French society are organised and are trying to impose their rule on their quartiers, and I like the "homemade" aspect of it: so I suggest "yobocracy". Sadly and predictably enough, I’m not the first one to come up with it, but still, almost creating a new word AND answering a reader’s question isn’t a bad way to kick off my week!

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:35+00:00 December 3rd, 2007|Words|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. céline December 4, 2007 at 8:15 am

    Joye on the French side points out that the American press has gone for "thugocracy" (34,100 hits). It easily beats my "yobocracy" (384 hits). Damn.

  2. LInda Herbertson December 4, 2007 at 9:06 am

    We live in such a hypocritical age, it makes me mad when politicians point the finger at so-called “thugs” and how ‘bad’ they are (let’s clean their neighbourhoods with a pressurewasher) while chinking cristal champagne glasses with industry bosses who have just made a kill by selling shares before the price drops and throwing people out of work, into the gutter, while awarding themselves 140% payrises and beating their chests and saying all you have to do is rise earlier and work harder and you can all come and share our yacht.

  3. Stephen Gobin December 7, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    “yob rule” is surely the most fitting translation. I’m sure I’ve read it in both national and local press and heard it on the telly too.

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