A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 11: Charlie Hebdo: Behind the name

This time last week, I, like I imagine many other people, had never heard of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. You’d have to have been living under a rock this past week to not have heard the name Charlie Hebdo by now. It has of course been all over the news after the terrorist attack that took place on 7 January. But this post is not going to be about what happened during the attack, or the motives behind it. There are plenty of blogs and news agencies already doing that. This post is much more simple than that. For me, I’m more interested in learning about what Charlie Hebdo is.

The magazine is a weekly publication, best known for it’s controversial cartoons targeting religion, politics, culture, the police, etc. I guess the closest thing to it in the UK, is the magazine Private Eye. I’ve never been a subscriber of the magazine, but I generally do enjoy watching Have I Got News For You, a satirical topical discussion show that features Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye.

Charlie Hebdo is described by much of the media as being left-wing and atheist. The thing about Charlie Hebdo, the publication as opposed to the news story, that interested me most was the name.


My French is terrible, so in my mind it was something like CHAR-lee HEB-dough /ˈʧɑːliː ˈhebdəʊ/. I was of course wrong, as the correct French pronunciation is ​/ʃaʁli ɛbdo/.  

  • [ʃ] is like a ‘sh’ sound
  • [a] is between a short English [æ] and long English [ɑː]
  • [ʁ] is possibly the most difficult sound, at least for me, and sounds something like the ‘ch’ sound in Scottish ‘loch’
  • [l] is just as you might expect the ‘l’ at the beginning of a word to sound like
  • [i] a long ‘e’ sound as in ‘key’
  • [ɛ] a short ‘e’ sound as in ‘pen’
  • [b] as you’d expect the ‘b’ to sound a the beginning of a word
  • [d] same as the beginning d in English
  • [o] is the ‘eau’ sound we get at the end of the word bureau: similar, but shorter than the vowel sound I’d originally imagined in ‘dough’


And what about the meaning of the magazine’s name? The Hebdo part is quite simple; it’s just a shortened version of hebdomadaire, which is French for weekly. As for the Charlie part, that requires a little look back at the history of the publication.

Satirical publications are not a recent addition to journalism in France. The BBC describes how they are a tradition in the country’s journalism, which dates back centuries to the French Revolution.

Charlie Hebdo actually started out life under a different name: Hari-Kiri. Much like Charlie Hebdo today, Hari-Kiri was not shy of controversy. It began as a monthly publication and was banned a number of times during the 1960s. In 1969, the Hari-Kiri team decided to launch a new weekly magazine, which was called Hari-Kiri Hebdo (later L’Hebdo Hari-Kiri).

When former president Charles de Gaulle died in 1970, and Hari-Kiri published a front cover satirising the story, the magazine was banned. It was at this time that the publication changed it’s name and came to be known as Charlie Hebdo. The Charlie came from another French magazine, Charlie Mensuel, which was well-known for featuring translations of American comic strips. One such comic was Peanuts, whose main character was Charlie Brown, after whom Charlie Mensuel, and as a result Charlie Hebdo, was named.

I will of course continue to follow news coverage of the attack, and bear the victims in my thoughts. I hope too, that by taking the time to learn a little more about the publication, by learning a little something about it’s history, it is something that I will continue to remember when, inevitably, the news coverage moves on.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Guardian, The Independent, BBC News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal



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This entry was posted on January 11, 2015 by in Language and tagged , , , , .


January 2015

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