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Derailer, Not Derailleur!

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by Sheldon "Vélomane" Brown
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Traditionally, in U.S. usage, the gear-change mechanism we all know and love has been called a "derailleur." This is actually a French word, but it is commonly pronounced in an anglicized manner, as "de-RAIL-er" or "de-RAIL-yur." The actual French pronunciation is more like "day-RYE-EUH" but nobody says that when speaking English. The proper French spelling is "dérailleur," not "derailleur."

The French Ministry of Culture and Communication has been on a campaign to purge the French language of the "impurity" caused by the introduction of foreign, (especially English) words into French speech and writing. In an attempt to combat "cultural imperialism", or "franglais" the Ministry has been attempting to banish such terms as "le week-end", "Walkman" (which they mistakenly think is English), "FAX", "Computer", etc. and replace them with special made-up French words. ("fin-de-semaine", "baladeur", "telecopieur", "ordinateur"...)

When you consider how many French words are already in the English language, as the result of real imperialism (William the Conqueror, 1066!) I think it is time to defend the "purity" of the English tongue; you have to draw the line somewhere, and I have drawn it at "dérailleur."

I am on a one-man campaign to replace the foreign spelling "dérailleur" with the English spelling and pronunciation "derailer." I have been using this spelling in all of my writing for some time, and urge others to do the same.

The word "derailer" (or "dérailleur") is actually a metaphor, relating the gear change to what happens when a railroad train goes off the tracks. In English, we call this a "derailment," not a "déraillement."

In fact, in the railroad industry, there is an obscure device designed to deliberately derail a runaway rail car. This device has always been called a "derailer" in English, and a "dérailleur" in French.

I have written a rather more serious article on derailer adjustment, which may be of interest.

Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-French. I lived in France for a year, I speak fluent French, and love the people and culture of France; I have a Web section devoted to cycle touring in France; I have created a French/English-English/French bicycle dictionary; I read all 1500 pages of Lés Misérables in French, and greatly enjoyed it; but I refuse to use a fake-French spelling or pronunciation for my bicycle's gear changer.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. -- George Bernard Shaw

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