I’m a bit of a sucker for competitive cookery programmes. One thing that is always entertaining is the quirks of the contestants and the fripperies they often try to get into their food. In particular, I remember one contestant who was obsessed with trying to get a quenelle into everything.
In that context, quenelle is an egg-shaped mound of food, and is normally an accompaniment to a main course, or perhaps some ice cream, delicately shaped using two spoons before being added to the plate to give it some apparent finesse. So entertaining did we find this as a family, that my eight-year-old daughter starting forming quenelles of cream cheese to put with her crackers. And in gastronomy, quenelle has a bigger relative, a dish of a creamed protein combined with breadcrumbs and egg and served as a more substantial dish.
But quenelles are no longer funny. No, Premier League footballer Nicolas Anelka and his French comedian buddy Dieudonne have seen to that. At the start of 2014, quenelle was only really known to English speakers from the usage described above. But once Anelka had adopted the quenelle pose to celebrate a goal for West Brom against West Ham, its racially charged meaning started to dominate headlines everywhere.
The gesture, created by Dieudonne in 2005, is an inverted Nazi salute with the opposite hand touching the shoulder. It is derived from its edible cousin and harks back to when Dieudonne said he wanted to insert a quenelle up the backside of Zionists. But his subsequent claims that this is an anti-establishment, rather than an anti-semitic, gesture, seem hollow, given the subsequent usage of the action outside synagogues or Holocaust memorials.
The usage of the quenelle has been growing in France, but it still took its adoption by Anelka to propel it to prominence and a place in the English language. And the debate over the true meaning of it seems irrelevant now. Whether or not Anelka’s usage of it was innocent, and whether or not Dieudonne means it to be truly racially offensive or not, it now is. The quenelle gesture is now perceived by people in England as anti-semitic and it will justifiably become something that people should be vilified for using, without allowing them to hide behind an argument about the nuances of its actual intention.
The quenelle has changed its meaning forever with English speakers, and the next time I watch a cookery show, it will be interesting to see if the producers have seen fit to quietly move them off the table.