Peace craneAre English speakers more creative in their use of language? I don’t know, but some of the English terms that crop to designate new concepts and ideas sometimes are just perfect. “Astroturfing” is an excellent example, even if it’s not so new, as its first use apparently goes back to 1985: if “grassroots” describes a movement anchored in the community, “astroturfing”, which comes from AstroTurf, the artificial grass widely used in sports fields and stadiums, is very clear: it is “made up grassroots”. It is a fake grassroots movement designed to give the impression that it is spontaneous and comes from the base. Its members are present in the media and on the web, where they “share” their experiences in order to generate a buzz around a product or an idea.
The Wikipedia entry on astroturfing is excellent, and the whole issue of astroturfing raises many questions, but I won’t go into them here since they have been discussed in detail elsewhere. What interests me as a French translator and language lover is what name this new concept will take in my mother tongue. Initial research suggests that it has been borrowed in its English form. Since the French equivalent of “grassroots” is not a figurative term (“grassroots mouvement” could be translated as mouvement citoyen, populaire, de base ou communautaire) it is difficult to play on the word by finding its “fake” equivalent i.e. “astroturf”. The alternatives would be to use a description, like stratégie de manipulation basée sur un mouvement citoyen d’apparence spontané, mais en réalité orchestré dans un but précis, which, I agree, is a mouthful, or to borrow “astroturfing” and hope that the readers will be familiar with the concept.
To go back to my question in the first paragraph, there is actually a French neologism that I love, because it’s quite romantic, but also because it is incredibly handy when translating: internaute, built on the same model as “astronaut” and “cosmonaut” to designate someone who travels on the internet. “Web user” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
Fake grass photo by JPDaigle