Some things just don’t translate well. Regardless of how you feel about France’s position in the current international crisis, you have to admit Groundskeeper Willie’s line about “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” is pretty funny. But not when dragged, kicking and screaming, into French:

If such language is proving a headache for the diplomats, then spare a thought for the French translators, who have struggled for words to convey the full force of the venom. “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys”—a phrase coined by Bart Simpson but made acceptable in official diplomatic channels around the globe by Jonah Goldberg, a columnist for the rightwing weekly National Review (according to Goldberg)—was finally rendered: “Primates capitulards et toujours en quête de fromages”. And the New York Post’s “axis of weasel” lost much of its venom when translated as a limp “axe de faux jetons” (literally, “axis of devious characters” [actually, I believe, ‘axis of hypocrites’—LH]).

(From a Guardian article by Gary Younge and Jon Henley, February 11, 2003; at the end of the article appears the following delightful correction: “The description of the French as ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ was not coined by Bart Simpson. It comes from the Simpsons character Groundskeeper Willie, the Scottish immigrant who takes care of custodial matters at the elementary school.”)

Fair balance. I will hereby provide equal time in the arena of memorable insults; wood s lot directed me to a Ben Tripp article from Counterpunch that contains this remarkable sentence: “You see, if there’s a clear loser in the pending savagery, it’s George W. Bush and his administration of barking scrotum monsters.” Barking scrotum monsters! Now, that deserves a niche right up there beside the primates capitulards.

Addendum. Jumping Jehoshaphat, in just a few days those damn monkeys have overtaken the Romanian gymnasts in my referrer logs and at the present rate will soon threaten the all-time champ, Charlie Ravioli! I guess the secret to getting hits is to mention as many catchphrases of the day as humanly possible. This may seem obvious to you, but my brain was formed during the ENIAC era, so it takes me a while to catch on. Excuse me while I run out to buy some popular periodicals to find out what people are talking about. I trust the Saturday Evening Post is still the cynosure of the common man…


  1. I think it’s funny enough from Groundskeeper Willie, but seems daft in op-ed pieces.

    And it’s nonsense anyway; the French, unlike the Americans, risked ground troops in Kosova, while the Americans ran away from Somalia after 17 men were killed.

    Surrender monkeys my foot.

  2. Quite true; que mes lecteurs français ne m’en veuillent pas!

  3. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    Monkeys, weasels, whatever…A propos the current “fraught” political situation: They may love Jerry Lewis, and they may eat snails, but this time they’re right!

  4. I’ve started to get hits for “Freedom Fries“. I wonder whether is registered yet? Know any high-paying banner ad brokers these days?

  5. Pourqoui primates plutôt que singes?

  6. And why couldn’t someone invent a word such as fromagivores?

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