The Year 2000

Is it the end -- or just the beginning?

Certain expressions can be rendered only in French. Esprit de corps. Joie de vivre. Cherchez la femme. Croissant. They don't really work in translation. And that is true of fin de siecle. "End of the century" sounds flat and clunky. It doesn't carry the suggestion conveyed by the original of hectic decay and a sort of perfumed dying fall.

When the expression fin de siecle first appeared in France roughly 100 years ago, it meant modern and up-to-date, but it quickly acquired a very negative connotation, and people spoke of a sickness -- la maladie de fin de siecle. The term...

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