Snitch, grass or rat?

Article published on Dec. 1, 2010
Article published on Dec. 1, 2010
In France, three employees having a field day ranting about their bosses on their social network pages are fired. Between these two events is a connection, the ‘rat’ who was their ‘friend’ on facebook. Between the internet and the DDR via some classic film thrillers, a glance at how to say 'snitch' in Europe

In every good thriller, the snitch is never who you think he is. From the close friend to the unknown enemy, you could write a history of cinema following the (low) profile of the grass, the character who will sell you out without a word and reap the benefits of doing so. The protagonists of Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (an American 1949 film noir) remain unaware that they’ll be caught thanks to an infame (an Italian traitor or French traître). In the meantime, they dance.

The soplón (a Spanish snitch) is always the one who kills the party. Everything’s going well, you’ve stolen the goods, you think you’ve gotten away with it, but a bocaza (a Spanish big mouth) turns up to bring you firmly back down to earth. The history of humanity is written with the sweat of the petze (a German telltale); they have a much greater influence than any old protagonist if you know how to bribe them that is. The most tragic poucave or mouchard (French slang for ‘grass’ with Roma gypsy origin) in the history of cinema can be seen in John Ford’s film The Informer (1935) where the English pay for the services of a squealer in order to put an end to the IRA resistance.

But fiction never goes as far as reality. Who could have strung together a plot whereby three employees are fired because a pettegolo (rat in Italian slang) has spilled the beans on what they were writing on their facebook wall – the main page of their social network profile? That’s what happened at French consultancy firm Alten. Thinking that their comments were being read by facebook ‘friends’, they declared themselves, the trouble club and vowed to make their HR manager’s life hell for the next few months. Fortunately for her that a chivato (a rat in Spanish slang) was able prevent these three ‘initiators of rebellion’ from causing any harm, as the judge ruled it.

Who will thank this masked avenger for his act of allegiance to authority? Nobody. We know very well that the cafeteur (a French tattletale) never wins the day. His regret eats away at him, his guilt is overwhelming. Unless, like German agent Wiesler in the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others (2006), he realises unaided the potentially devastating effects of his infamata (the Italian noun form of infamy) on other peoples' lives.