January 24, 2021

‘My favourite salad is books’ – why the French love badly translated slogan T-shirts

From tees reading ‘loverdose’ and ‘You’re too close’ to the rather more obscure ‘a little pinch of bananas’, shirts with phrases seemingly translated on Babel Fish are proving un succès in France

Few figureheads are more likely to kill a trend than Boris Johnson. Last month, the foreign secretary chose to wear a T-shirt adorned with playful French insults on his daily jog. As the sweat formed a small, dark pool over the words moule à gaufres (waffle iron), noix de coco (coconut) and bachi-bouzouk (an order of the Ottoman army that emerged as a result of empire and became problematic slang for “vagabond” in French), just like that, the French-slogan T-shirt died.

In fairness to our envoy, he was wearing a youth’s T-shirt with quotes from Tintin’s Captain Haddock, but the sentiment remains. Alongside Carven’s micro-printed French mantras, the Mon Amour and l’amant T-shirts by Sézane, beloved by Camille Rowe and Alexa Chung, and Topshop’s sold-out Merci T-shirt, 2017 has been the year of the French slogan T-shirt. Johnson’s contribution merely took the trend to critical mass.

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