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When I was in Paris two summers ago, I saw a couple of posters no doubt seen by some of you:

loi travail - l'oie travaille

It's from this website. I poked around it a bit without quite getting the thrust, but anyway...

The linguistic/sociolinguistic question I had is what connotations come to mind for « l'oie » ? My guesses from the image might be something about there only being work for the white / privileged; only for one in every N people (cp. English Duck, Duck, Goose); or only for those who fall in line...

Is it from a children's story or nursery rhyme in French, such that the reference is immediately obvious to French speakers?

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I wouldn't have understood it without the picture, but with the picture the implication is very clear. Oie refers to "pas de l'oie", i.e. goose step, which is how fascists march. This is an allusion to fascism, and to nazism in particular. The allusion is recognizable not only from the way the goose is stepping, but also from the style of the drawing which is reminiscent of 1930s political posters.

This this poster claims that the "loi travail" (labor law) is either the product of a fascist government, or a step towards a fascist government (fascism at work, or working towards fascism).

I have a vague memory of a somewhat famous poster with a similar style that could have been direct inspiration, but I can't find it in an image search and I may well be imagining things. Here is something in a similar style: the cover of a book of fascist songs published in Italy in 1935.

1935 Italian fascist song book cover

Note that I don't think everyone in France would get the reference to fascist marches. But people who would draw this poster definitely have this in mind.

  • Pretty well convinced. I think I know the type of image you have in mind, but I'm having trouble finding an example by searching. Could you add one to put the proverbial nail in the coffin? – Luke Sawczak Jul 9 '18 at 12:50
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    @LukeSawczak I suspect that the poster is a direct allusion but I don't have enough political-historical culture to find it. I did add an example of something in a similar style. – Gilles Jul 9 '18 at 21:15
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    @LukeSawczak To Gilles's tip-top answer I'd add that, art wise, what reminds us of the 1930s political Nazi posters is the bold black & white sans-serif lettering reminiscent of the Gothic lettering. Comparing labourers brought to heel by a government to goose-stepping Wehrmacht soldiers has been done before. To me this L'oie Travaille poster reminds me of this political drawing from the 1980s depicting marching labourers gradually turning into goose-stepping soldiers. – Laure Jul 10 '18 at 15:20
  • @Laure Great find! And since that advances the date of the reference by half a century, you've made it clearer why the mobilisateurs expected people to recognize the trope. Merci. – Luke Sawczak Jul 10 '18 at 15:33
  • @LukeSawczak Actually I don't expect this political drawing I was pointing to, to be widely known, I still presume people would be better aware of Nazi propaganda posters. – Laure Jul 10 '18 at 15:43
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It comes from "pas de l'oie", aka goose-step, the stilted way some armies have their soldiers march, especially during parades.

The implication here is that the government treats the working force as little soldiers it can order around as it pleases.

  • Ah, okay! So along the lines of my last guess :) I'll leave this a little longer but it sounds like a solid explanation... – Luke Sawczak Jul 9 '18 at 4:06
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it is an ironic pun as both sentences sound the same when you say them.

It is meant to decry a law, here the "loi travail" (work law), by telling that people is only considered as a herd. Normally you would tell people are sheep but for the intend of the pun, it has been decided here to use goose to tell "l'oie travaille" (goose works) ans make the sentences sound the same, to reinforce the impact.

  • It's a goose for the pun, but the reason for the goose is the goose step that is emblematic of fascism. And there is no irony there. – Gilles Jul 9 '18 at 11:17
  • you'd rather tell sarcatisc @Gilles ? :) – Cyril GUICHARD Jul 9 '18 at 11:19

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