Jean-Louis Chiflet was born in Lyon in 1942. Following law school and a year spent in New Orleans to perfect his English, he joined the Hachette publishing group in 1967 as head of the foreign rights department before being named director of the international encyclopedia department.
In 1981, he started a publishing consulting firm, and in 1982 he became director of the international division of the Larousse publishing group. In 1985 he founded an editorial packaging company, Bookmaker, which he ran till 1995. After having done concept work and management of humor books for such publishers as Laffont, Payot, and Mango, he founded his own publishing house in 2005, Chiflet and Co.
But Jean-Loup Chiflet is not only a publisher, he is also the author of over fifty humorous books on language, the most famous of which is Sky My Husband! (Ciel mon mari!), published in 1985. After this book, which sold over 300,000 copies and pilloried the amusing literal differences between the French and English languages, Jean-Loup Chiflet devoted himself to tracking down, whether in his own books or in the ones he was publishing, the strangeness and eccentricities of the French language. With his playful yet donnish denouncements of the difficulties of language, he has made for himself a solid reputation as a “rogue grammarian.” Jean-Loup Chiflet has also adapted and translated into French cartoons from The New Yorker. He has also been a reporter for France Inter and regularly publishes editorials in Figaro Madame.
1. Thirty Years of Humor and Pedagogy in the Life of a Happy French Publisher
Everything started in 1985, when, as director of the international division of a large French publisher, I published a little book to amuse my friends Sky my Husband/Ciel mon mari. This was a small tome with two hundred phrases playing with the ambiguities between French and English; immediate success, 300,000 copies sold. It had behind it the simple principle that “les carottes sont cuites” is not translated by “the carrots are cooked,” but by “the die is cast.” With the great reactions from teachers of English who thereby discovered that you can laugh and teach at the same time, I gained acceptance, little by little, as a fun-loving cultural commentator. As author or publisher, I perpetuated the dissemination of some sixty of these kinds of books: an impertinent French grammar, having fun with arithmetic, English grammar (“I’m Learning English with the Queen,” modern latin: Ad aeroportum! in which one discovers that at the Vatican there’s this surreal dictionary of contemporary words like jazz (nigritarum musica) or McDonald’s (Filius Donaldi), etc.
Other interesting subjects would include how to teach literature by imagining sequels to the classics. I’ll talk as well about the famous French exception, or, rather, about certain exceptions which make our language one of the most difficult ones in the world. We will also skim through such insolent French books as the famous works from the early 20th century having to do with good manners.
2. French-American Relations as Seen Through the Pages of the New Yorker
The whole world knows about the New Yorker, which, as everyone knows, is like the cult magazine of American intellectuals.
Through the more than 70,000 cartoons published since 1925, the New Yorker is not only an exceptional homage to English-language nonsense, absurdity, and humor, but also a very subtle journey through 80 years of the history of the United States, and of its relations with the rest of the world, not to mention France and the French. In my exposé, I will try to describe the evolution of the relations between the two countries by showing how the cartoonists have presented the fascination for France and especially for Paris that Americans badly in need of a few extravagances had, in a country in complete disarray (1925 –1939).
Change of scene: in 1940, war is declared, the expression “There’s a war going on” replaces “That’s life,” and the GI goes along to get along with the French (public enemy number one: snails!). In 1950 the middle class takes center stage, with its loud shirts, and things turn sour (enemy no. one is now de Gaulle, with his withdrawal from NATO). Finally, from 1967 on, relations become more strained, and even rather gloomy. Iraq plays its role here, but, as always, this is portrayed with humor, thanks to these brilliant cartoonists.
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