Il a conforté son maillot jaune.
ee lah kaw-for-tay saw mah-ee-yo ZHOAN. Click below to hear this.*
He strengthened his winning position.
The first image that entered my mind, when I read this sentence, was of a yellow jersey huddled under the covers, sucking its thumb and sobbing, while a little boy soothes it by saying “There, there, it’s all right. You’ll win next time.” After all, the literal translation seems to be He comforted his yellow jersey. On second thought, however, I don’t imagine that’s quite what the Le Monde sports writer had in mind.
It turns out that the verb conforter is a false friend. To comfort is réconforter. Conforter, on the other hand, is to consolidate, reinforce, strengthen, and other synonyms. The news story is about le Tour de France 2012, where an Englishman named Wiggins won the next-to-last étape on Saturday, July 21 and seemed poised to claim the winner’s maillot jaune (yellow jersey on the following day. (Here’s the article.)
This odd little expression isn’t so odd after all. Conforter comes from the Latin cum-, an intensifying prefix, and fortis, which means strong. Since Wiggins was already in an excellent position to win, his success in the 19th étape reinforced the likelihood that the winner’s maillot jaune will be his. The writer is calling it “his” not because Wiggins has already claimed it, but by anticipation, as if proclaiming a certitude.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: