Le leader sheep

Leader sheepThe other day I heard someone on the radio talk about le leader sheep. While I have lived here long enough to be able to recognize when the French speak franglais, it nonetheless took me by surprise. And the rather strange image of the leader sheep popped into my mind.

It’s funny because we tend to think of sheep as followers. If we hear about people behaving ‘like a bunch of sheep’ we will imagine them blindly following. Come to think of it, perhaps that’s what leadership is all about?

There is something endearing about the French use of English words. It’s as if certain concepts must be expressed in the original version as they simply do not exist in French. Business French is strewn with such jargon, sometimes to the point where it is difficult to know which language is being spoken. Some very funny examples were immortalized by the French minister Annick Girardin in an open letter to the business world, shared here.

I remember once asking a colleague: Surely there must be a French word for leader? “Oui,” she said. “Un meneur d’hommes.”

“Hommes?” I asked. But what about women? My colleague explained that ‘hommes’ in this context is meant in the broad sense (sorry, bad pun) to also include les femmes. Ah oui, bien sûr.

One of the reasons I like living in France is that the cult of the politically correct is slower to catch on here. They may not have a word for leadership but they are also less like sheep. Come to think of it, getting the French to follow anybody is a challenge.

Care to share your experience of leadership or leader sheep?


  1. Suzy Barker · March 31, 2016

    Great photo. Amusing post …

    • MELewis · March 31, 2016

      Merci! That is, ahem, thank you! 😉

  2. davidprosser · March 31, 2016

    Great post Mel. I’m assuming Franglais came about only because the English language had created a term for whatever is being spoken about first. It seems a poor excuse however to speak in Franglais as though the French don’t have a term or couldn’t create a term to be used.On the other hand, maybe it’s just easier to use terms that are known so well the World over and are thought of as business terms rather than English terms.It does lead to some funny examples though as you’ve shared.
    I sort of like the integration between the two peoples and languages rather than pure competition between them.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · March 31, 2016

      Cheers, David! Lovely idea of languages and people all sort of melding together. It feels right to me, although probably most people and especially linguists would be appalled. Glad you enjoyed my bits of humour. I am speaking to the converted when it comes to the funny bone side of life! Big bises to you mon ami!

      • davidprosser · March 31, 2016

        Thanks Mel, they’re very welcome today.
        xxx Hugs Galore xxx

      • MELewis · March 31, 2016

        Sending a special thought for the loss of your dear Ju today. xo

  3. Piddlewick · March 31, 2016

    I always learn something new from your posts (as someone who is currently, desperately trying to learn French.) Thank you!

    And I agree, one of my favourite things about France and te French is the lack (comparatively) of PCness. J’adore that the French won’t capitulate to others ideas of what is supposed to be. 🙂

    • MELewis · March 31, 2016

      So very glad it is helpful to you! Believe me, I have been there and I know how hard making sense of France and the French can be for non-natives! Yet we love them not in spite of but actually for the very things that make it frustrating. 😀

  4. coteetcampagne · March 31, 2016

    That’s so true.
    I like the French attitude generally, and Trevor fits right in because he has the same mindset; he is always slightly out of kilter in the UK for his old fashioned notions and strong/stubborn streak!

    • MELewis · March 31, 2016

      Sounds like Trevor’s a natural-born Français! 😉

  5. Suzanne et Pierre · March 31, 2016

    Always interesting. Actually, I also noticed that French people will use English words to mean something that is never used by English-speaking people…For example, basket is never used to mean shoes in English. It is quite funny to try to figure out what they actually truly understand of English. There are also some words that sound like they English but in reality they are French borrowed by the English and sent back to French – like Stop & Square but try to explain that to a Quebecer and they will tell you that these words are English and shouldn’t be used here…Languages and its uses are fascinating…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      Thanks, Suzanne! Yes, I find the differences in language fascinating too. The first time I heard ‘basket’ I understood immediately they were referring to running shoes (Canada) or trainers (UK) or, when I lived in the US, ‘tennis shoes’. So even amongst ourselves we can’t agree! What is Stop & Square – a store?

      • Suzanne et Pierre · April 1, 2016

        It is so true that there are huge differences between the different versions of English…not easy for a non-native English speaker.

        As for Stop: I meant the Stop sign. In Quebec, all of the Stop signs on the streets say Arrêt because one day someone said that stop was an English word that couldn`t be used in Quebec…but Stop was originally a French word.

        As for Square, I meant the public square. In France it is very much used but in Quebec again some people think it is an English word so it isn`t used frequently despite the fact that it is truly a French word.

        Many people don’t know that for centuries the English high class in England only spoke French and that the English languages borrowed a lot of words from French over those centuries. Some people say that it is because of Joan of Arc if English is now the dominant language…if she hadn’t been successful in throwing the English out of France then a good portion of the English would still be speaking French..but who knows what the history would have been liked if she had failed.

    • Mél@nie · April 3, 2016

      @” I also noticed that French people will use English words to mean something that is never used by English-speaking people…” – exactement… je l’ai remarqué me, too, également… 🙂

  6. zipfslaw1 · March 31, 2016

    I’m a big fan of the English word “bellwether.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “someone or something that leads others or shows what will happen in the future.” Here’s the story of the word, from the Merriam-Webster website–you’ll see that it’s a propos:

    “We usually think of sheep more as followers than leaders, but in a flock one sheep must lead the way. Long ago, it was common practice for shepherds to hang a bell around the neck of one sheep in their flock, thereby designating it the lead sheep. This animal was called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning “bell”) and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep that has been castrated). It eventually followed that bellwether would come to refer to someone who takes initiative or who actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others. This usage first appeared in English in the 13th century.”

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      Fascinating! I always wondered why it was ‘wether’ rather than ‘weather’ (which somehow seemed to be mixed up in my confused appreciation of the word.) Now I get it – thanks for your enlightening explanation!

  7. phildange · March 31, 2016

    Very true, the invasion of English terms is unprecedented now . But I don’t care right now, and I use them . Because all these terms relate to things that don’t interest me, or downright revulse me . They are all in business or advertisements fields, or in TV shows for uneducated teen-agers and grown ups, or in technological “gadgetic” new stuff . None of these notions deserve a true word, a word that conveys clues of human mind evolution through centuries .
    That’s why, as a French, I don’t feel like creating or even using indigenous words.for that .
    Times have changed since the 70s . By then, I appreciated English terms that were used by the unconventional youth, because they conveyed together notions that were not mixed in French understanding, or notions that were wisely meant to reamain vague . In short, I used this kind of English vocabulary as a mind opener .
    But, as I said, times have changed, and English imports too .

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      You are right not to worry about such imports. French will survive as a language long after we stop talking about ‘forwarder’ vs. faire suivre!

  8. Susanne · March 31, 2016

    Isn’t this fun? Your post about leadership evolved into a discussion about language use. Once while in Shediac, New Brunswick, I encountered a conversation that was easily understood by me, an Anglophone with an elementary school understanding of French. It was a perfectly awful example of Franglaise but I understood it!

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      It’s true that franglais can be a kind of boon for the English-speaker as we can (sort of) understand it. But as another Suzanne (of Suzanne and Pierre) commented above, so often the French usage is very different, so it can also get you intro trouble if you assume you understand but they actually mean something else! Seems like language always stimulates a lively discussion. 🙂

  9. Anne Donnelly · March 31, 2016

    I especially love when English words are used in French to mean something totally different than what those words mean in English, like with les pom-pom girls, or le brushing

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      Two great examples, Anne. There are so many others that struck me as strange when I first arrived – if only the blogging world had existed back then I wouldn’t have felt so alone!

  10. Andrea · April 1, 2016

    Please God the cult of the politically correct doesn’t catch on in France!
    I must say though that so much of the English language has its basis in French, we’ve been sheep too!

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      True! I regret not having had the opportunity to study Latin at school as I think it would give greater insight into the common roots of our languages. As for cult of the PC, I think we are safe here in France. 😉

  11. Food,Photography & France · April 1, 2016

    One of the great strengths of the French is their disregard for PC. However, they are naturally more polite and also naturally more pigheaded:)

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      Lol. Funny how they can combine both so seamlessly!

  12. Emily Commander · April 1, 2016

    I think le leader sheep might rival my previous favourite franglais term : le relooking… Thank you!

    • phildange · April 1, 2016

      No, leader sheep is an incomparable good one ! At once, it triggers an oxymoron that makes you a little bemused, then creates a comical image, mmm.. no, no equal .
      And what about philosophy ? Among the sheep there are leaders . But they are sheep nevertheless . The people we follow are sheep ? Hell !!

    • MELewis · April 1, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed! Franglais is so rich it’s hard to have a single favourite. 😉

  13. Mél@nie · April 3, 2016

    merci, you’ve made my (sunny) evening, Mel… 🙂 I’ve enjoyed your post from the very “pun title”… which has reminded me of “les moutons de Panurge”… 😉 j’adore les jeux de mots dans les langues que je “cause”… 🙂
    * * *
    bonne soirée, une semaine formidable et pensées toulousaines ensoleillées… ❤

    • MELewis · April 4, 2016

      Merci pour le soleil, Mél@nie….nous sommes en manque ici en Haute Savoie. This morning as I read your comment the sun is showing its colours across the Jura. May it bring a beautiful week to you, chère Toulousaine!

      • Mél@nie · April 5, 2016

        ❤ mille merci et pareillement, chère Canadienne! 🙂

  14. acflory · April 4, 2016

    lol – sorry but I have alpacas not sheep. 🙂

    • MELewis · April 5, 2016

      Can’t pull the wool over your eyes!

      • acflory · April 5, 2016

        Baaaaa….? -grin-

  15. barbedwords · April 4, 2016

    Not only was your blog post very interesting, but I’ve also learnt a lot from the comments! Your readers must be a very clever lot 🙂

    • MELewis · April 5, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for pointing that out! So true – they are a very clever bunch! 🙂

  16. Osyth · April 11, 2016

    Leader Sheep is better than leader shi* – oddly as a lifelong feminist I have no worries about the lack of PCness and the slowness of the catch up in France that women are equal but you should hear my Parisien friend Sophie go …. It’s great – I’ve learned a ship load of expletives at this altar!

  17. phildange · April 11, 2016

    PCness is not the reality of behaviour . It is a complete hypocrisy and an insult to intelligence . But yes, women’s equality is not reached yet by far, especially at work .
    But there’s something in France that always makes me happy to come back, something that innervates many interactions between sexes here : something looking like “complicité”, between many different sorts of women and sorts of men . I’ve been looking for something of the sort in Northern countries, in Latin countries, in Arabic countries, in India, in Brazil, well … I never could find this delicious atmosphere in all its flavours .

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