Where have I been, under a rock perhaps, that I have never heard of “lingua franca?”
Do you ever notice a word or phrase for the first time and then, all of a sudden, you read it everywhere?
Recently, I was rushing to finish my June issue of Vanity Fair, as July had just arrived, and I ran across this phrase, lingua franca. Because I was on a plane, I was unable to look it up. My guess at a literal translation was “French tongue,” but that didn’t seem to make sense.
In an article called Playing for the World, preceding the start of the World Cup, A. A. Gill wrote, “It isn’t music or movies or pizza that is the lingua franca of the globe. It’s the Beautiful Game.” Then, I confess, I lingered unduly on the 12-page photo spread of the World Cup athletes. Annie Leibovitz, I want your job, if just for one day. But I digress.
I later noticed, in the same issue of the magazine, in different places and in different contexts, lingua franca appeared twice more.
Yesterday I remembered to look it up. An hour’s worth of cursory research confounded me further.
You may already know this, but lingua franca is the term for a hybrid language, like pidgin, that is spoken by persons not sharing a common native language, to communicate with one another. There seem to be dozens of different forms spoken in Europe, the Middle East and South America.
Okay, so I got that. But now all of a sudden it’s a simile. It’s a metaphor. And it’s everywhere.
Again, my research was cursory, so my findings may not be exact, and the sources are obscure. Either way, here are some examples I dug up.
“The Dow is certainly Wall Street’s lingua franca.”
“T-shirts are the lingua franca of Silicon Valley.”
“Movies are the lingua franca of the twentieth century.”
“Sarcasm is the lingua franca of the Internets [sic].”
More literally, in some faiths, a language called Adamic “is the lingua franca of Heaven.”
I read further that Lingua Franca is the name of a literary magazine that closed down in 2001, one I think I would have liked. It’s also the name of a band out of Flint, Michigan; the name of a CD by an Australian group called The World According to James; and the names of lyrical movements in several countries.
I hate it when something is cliché before I ever become aware of it. Reminds me of the “What’s In and What’s Out” list that comes out every January 1st. Far too often, it’s already Out before I knew it was In.