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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N°39 - November 2003   
 Tribology in the 'nano' age
 A dead end in 30 years
 Moulding public opinion – truth and myth
 Biocultural fervour
 A new ERA of research

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OPINION Printable version

The name game

Schengen, or not; the eurozone, or not; respecting the “convergence criteria” and the “growth pact”, or not; supporting the US in its war with Iraq, or not; Member States, accession countries, candidate countries… the list never stops growing of European regions where there is one rule for one and one for another. So much so that Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s question to the Convention on the Future of Europe he was chairing – “should it be called European Union or United Europe?” – seems very misplaced today. Just call it Europe, and hope that this still means something, we might well be thinking.

All of this demonstrates the force and symbolism of words, and their considerable power to excite and enthuse – with, of course, certain variations from one language to the next. The choice of name we use to designate what is ineluctably becoming our ‘common home’ affects our chances of achieving a true union or merely a marriage of convenience.

If there is one field where words are weighed with precision, it is research. I am not thinking of the rigour of scientific language, but more prosaically of the names chosen for projects submitted for financing under the various Union programmes. I am constantly amused when I come across the title for an otherwise very serious project, and where one would expect a straightforward or symbolic message, one of those hypothetical semantic alignments, manifestly intended to render homage to the goddess Acronymy and to win favour with her Brussels’ worshippers.

The authors’ intention is clear: to inform the reader of the project’s content, using a name that is easy to identify and remember. Where ambition goes too far, often with counter-productive results, is to want the symbolic name and the summary of the project to be the same as the acronym of its full title. Faced with the at times hilarious results of these attempts, one can only wish that European researchers would not use up the greater part of their creative energy in twisting the vocabulary and syntax of an often foreign language in the hope of seducing the recipients of their proposals.

Now that we have successfully deciphered the genome, perhaps it is time to attack the next major field: deciphering the names of European projects?


(1) Pseudonym borrowed from the famous philosophical story “Candide ou l’optimisme” by 18th century writer Voltaire.