What’s in a word …

Once, when my pronunciation of a French word was rather incorrect, I was told that the French say that it doesn’t matter what one does as long as one pronounces it properly. I can add to this now: I can say that the French still do not mind what one does but one must have […]


Once, when my pronunciation of a French word was rather incorrect, I was told that the French say that it doesn’t matter what one does as long as one pronounces it properly. I can add to this now: I can say that the French still do not mind what one does but one must have a French word for it. Therefore, one eats a ‘chien chaud’ here and never ever a ‘hotdog’. And one does not send a ‘mail’ or an ‘uh-mail’, as the French pronounce ‘e-mail’, but a ‘courriel’, and when one’s pc has a ‘bug’, it really has a ‘bogue’.

As it is ‘French Language Week’ here (March 14/24) and there are therefore renewed calls in intellectual circles to purify the French tongue and it has given some London dailies a new opportunity to have a go at the French. On March 12, the Daily Mail, for example, had a story under the heading, ‘France protects itself from the dreaded English language by banning fast-food and podcasting’ .

(Photo: Poster for French Language Week.)


Wanting to keep French pure, though, is nothing new; the French Academy (L’Académie Française)has been doing exactly this since it was founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu.


There is even a language body here, the ‘Commission Général de Terminologie et de Néologie’ founded in 1996 that annually issues a list of French words to replace foreign words which have infiltrated the language. Yet, it does also give the seal of approval to some foreign words. For example the Italian word ‘graffiti’ is now perfectly acceptable and so are some English words like ‘blue-jean’, ‘breakfast’, ‘caddie’, ‘chewing-gum’ and ‘ketchup’. Several German words are also accepted; ‘diktat’ is one.

I had a look at the commission’s latest list of replacement recommendations and I will have to go back to French classes if I am to speak ‘proper’ in future. Here are a few examples:

rave party: fête techno

plug-and-play: prêt à l’emploi

press briefing: point de presse

wi-fi: asfi (accès sans fil à internet)

upgrade : évolution d’un système

and make-over, now a ‘re-lookage’, ought to be a ‘remodellage’, though nothing yet on a suitable French word for a ‘blow-wave’. At present it’s ‘brushing’, which my hairdresser pronounces ‘brosh-shene’.

I’ll end by saying – ciao!


I

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses

3-16-2008 at 13:48:00

I have always loved the French language, and I can’t really blame them for trying to use their own expressions instead of English ones.
But they seem to be a bit strained trying to find the mot juste!

3-16-2008 at 14:32:00

I think the French are quite right in keeping their language pure.
Catherine Modin

3-17-2008 at 01:17:00

A couple of anglicisms that have become French words amuse me. “Slip” for knickers and “shampooing” for shampoo always give me a giggle. French is a lovely language but it’s impossible to prevent language change. All the purists can do is try to make sure no dreaded anglicisms appear in print. They’ll never stop the young trendies from introducing them into the spoken language.

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