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Goethe on French

January 30, 2015

“[French] is an excellent language for reservations, half-truths and lies – a language that is perfide. Thank goodness that there is no German word I can think of to express the full meaning of perfide. Our poor word treulos is an innocent babe in comparison. Perfide is ‘faithless,’ mixed in with pleasure, arrogance and malice. What an enviable state of culture it is when so many nuances can be expressed in one single word! French is indeed the language of the civilized world and worthy of becoming the universal language so that people can all cheat and deceive each other.”

(from Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship [1795], translated by Eric A. Blackall)

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