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Patrick MORVAN

Professeur Agrégé à l'Université Panthéon-Assas

(Droit social - Criminologie/droit pénal - Théorie générale du droit)

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22 juin 2020 1 22 /06 /juin /2020 16:27

 

 

WHO SAID: "ONE DEATH IS A CATASTROPHE. A HUNDRED THOUSAND DEATHS IS A STATISTIC"?

 

Often attributed to Stalin, this quotation was actually written by a famous German: Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935), a writer, critic and journalist, a satirical and committed spirit, with an immense culture, a great observer of society and defender of democracy, at the time of the Weimar Republic. Funnier: this sentence is supposed to embody French humour.

Under the pseudonym Peter Panter, Tucholsky published an article on French humour (Französischer Witz) in the Vossische Zeitung newspaper on 23 August 1925, in which he recounts a number of jokes and witty words that the French are believed to have in store in literature, in the press, in living rooms or even in the street.

The characteristic of French humour," he wrote, "is its lightness, delicacy and elegance. He gives various examples, such as:

- " The language of diplomats is French and the definition of their profession is: 'a diplomat is a man who knows a woman's date of birth and has forgotten her age' ".

- " The stationmaster to a passenger who hastily walks through a small railway station: "Are you looking for the restaurant? No, on the contrary, says the passenger. "

- " It's the hotel de l'Ourcq. - Which hotel? - L'Ourcq! L'Ourcq! O for August, U for Eugene, R for Ernest, C for Serge and Q for you ... (in French, the letter Q is pronounced "Ku" which means "ass")

Referring to the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Quai d'Orsay), Tucholsky evokes the words of a diplomat: "The war? I can't find it so horrible! The death of a human being: it's a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that's a statistic! "("Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!" ").

Quintessence of the French satirical spirit, in the eyes of a German, the sentence ended, by a detour whose history has the secret, in the mouth of Stalin!

***

Reference: Kurt Tucholski, "Französischer Witz": Vossische Zeitung, 23.08.1925 (under the pseudonym Peter Panter), quoted in his Complete Works in 4 volumes: Kurt Tucholsky: Gesammelte Werke in zehn Bänden. Band 4, Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1975, p.189-191 (available here)

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