Alors, the days of the circumflex are numbered!
I picked up this gem from this morning’s Guardian which informs us that for some arbitrary and unexplained reason French school publishers have now decided to implement the spelling reforms proposed by the Académie française way back in 1990.
About 2000 words, it seems, have now been respelt.
(Actually respelt is not a recognised word – at least judging by the red squiggly underline on my screen. But writing in English allows me to innovate without seeking permission from anyone. That’s how Shakespeare made his fortune).
And one of the major casualties is the circumflex, the little hat that sits on some vowels, sometimes with no obvious effect.
This apparently insignificant diacritic (that’s the right word, incidentally – I’ve just pulled it from Wikipedia) has been a major course of stress in my life, having learnt Grammar School French under a punctilious French Master. I can still feel his ruler on my knuckles.
So to my joy – but sadly, some 50 years too late – Maître has now become Maitre. The future was on my side after all, M Williams!
(For some of you reading this your operating system may not allow the circumflex in the first Maitre)
However, as you would expect whole sections of the French people sont outrés. #JeSuisCirconflexe has gone viral.
One Gareth Harding has just tweeted: Only a question of time before outraged French grammaticians take to streets burning dictionaries with #JeSuisCirconflexe placards.
However, the question for us is what would Jesus do?
And the surprising answer is that he would be on the side of the grammaticians.
How, I hear you ask, can I make this assertion with such confidence? The answer is in Matthew 5:18.
Here we have to use a more literal translation, such as in the Authorised (i.e. King James) Version, where Jesus says: “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
Here Jesus is referring to his equivalents to the circumflex and cedilla. The jot (or yodh) is the least letter of the alphabet while a tittle is a small stroke, a diddi-diacritic.
The NIV translation gives the essential meaning of his teaching: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
What Jesus is saying to his critics is that he is the fulfilment, the culmination even, of the covenant God made with Abraham. There is a straight line between Bethel and Bethlehem, no kinks, no breaks.
God has not changed his mind or altered his stance. As far as the salvation of the world is concerned, it is still plan A.
So the apostle Paul can write to the Galatians, who thought they needed to go back to the Old Testament laws in order to become God’s chosen people:
“God redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:14)
Or as the Message translation puts it: “ We are all able to receive God’s life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing—just the way Abraham received it.”
This is at the very heart of the Gospel message, something we tend to overlook. For here we see God’s faithfulness, his willingness to persevere with such perverse people as ourselves.
He stays the course and his promises will not change, not a comma, not even a semi-colon! Ceci est notre sécurité!