…you start using English words like a French person

There is a war brewing in France.  And I’m not only talking about the war between the police and the motley crew of Nuit Debout folk on the Place de la République (although that is still in full swing).  No, I’m talking about the perceived war on the French language.

It started out innocently enough.  An article here or there noting that the French increasingly use English words in their vocabulary.  A little asterisk on the bottom of billboards to provide a French translation of any English words used (to comply with the Loi Toubon).  Take this example from the current Galeries Lafayette advertising campaign in the metro:



Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

*In case of doubt, Out of office = Hors du bureau

But lately the anti-Anglais sentiment has escalated into an all-out war.  Take, for example, this video that the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (the French media regulator) released in March to mark La journée de la langue française et de la francophonie, which mocks people who use too many English words.  Or these examples from the newsstand this week:


100 Anglicisms to never use again!  It’s so much better in French…

Le Point

French Language: STOP THE MASSACRE!  Dramatic much?

Living and working in Paris, I have to say that I have noticed the infiltration of these anglicismes.  And, somewhat ironically I’ll admit, I do find myself using them more and more.  In discussions with French friends I find myself referring to a hot new restaurant being “surbooké“, or to a particular style being “has been” (with ze French accent, bien sûr).  Around the office it is even worse.  I will ask my boss to “checker” my draft, then I will “forwarder” it to him for his OK, before finally I will “shooter l’email” to the client.  Most of the time I know that there is a French equivalent I could use perfectly easily, but for some reason I don’t.

Luckily, help is at hand.  The Academie Française, founded in 1635, is tasked with the very solemn mission of protecting the French language and being the custodian of its dictionary.  The threat of the English invasion is not new for the immortels,  i.e. the 40 members of the Academie who are, upon their admission, decked out with a green habit and personalized sword (yes, that’s right and it’s pretty damn badass if you ask me).  As globalization has taken hold, so too has the English language.  But fear not – with a wave of the sword, the Academie can transform even the most unsightly English word into a pretty French one or, failing that, suggest an appropriate French substitution.

For this purpose, the Academie have a very handy “do’s and don’ts” section of their website called Dire, Ne Pas Dire (Say, Do Not Say), with a section dedicated specifically to those pesky Néologismes & anglicismes:  

Dire ne pas dire

Here, you learn that instead  of “Conf call” you should say “conférence téléphonique“, instead of “Deadline” you should say “dernier délai” and instead of “off the record” you should say “hors micro“.  However, if the Academie cannot find a suitable substitution, rather than capitulate it simply banishes the word entirely.  Such was the verdict for “borderline” (“Rien de ce qu’évoque le mot Borderline n’est possible à exprimer en termes simples et clairs. On se dispensera donc de l’employer.” / “It is impossible to express the word Borderline in simple and clear terms.  We will thus dispense with it.“).  The same fate awaited “burn-out” and “must have“.

Particularly troublesome are words associated with technology and business (or the corporate world generally), which are notoriously hard to translate.  A rare success story is the transformation of  “email” into “courriel” (i.e., courrier (mail) + eléctronique).  Recent attempts include replacing “smiley” with “frimousse“, “spam” with “arrosage” and “hashtag” with “mot-dièse“.  Sadly I just can’t see these catching on.  Vocabulary moves fast – even more so in this viral age of Twitter and mot-dièses – and once a word garners enough popular usage it is very difficult to convince people to stop using it.

Certain English words, however, do pass by the gatekeepers of the Academie.  However, they tend to do so in the weirdest and most wonderful ways.  For example, the word “footing” has been accepted as a substitute for “running” or “jogging”.  The only problem is, Anglophones don’t actually say “footing“.  Other examples (very few of which have actually been approved by the Academie, mind you) include “shooting” for photo shoot (though I still don’t dare to put #shooting on my Instagram photos), “relooking” for makeover and “brushing” for blow-dry.  Although this takes some getting used to, it is kind of genius as it takes an otherwise banal English word and puts a very French twist on it.

The problem is, French people actually like to pepper their dialogue with English words.  Especially in Paris, in recent years there has been a growing obsession with all things New Yorkais and particularly all things Brooklyn-esque.  This has been happening – at least on the Right Bank (Rive Droite) – since I arrived in Paris nearly six years ago.  But I knew things had reached a whole new level when, late last year, I saw this advertisement in the metro for the grocery section of the super-posh Left Bank department store Le Bon Marché

le bon marché

Guy with beard AND handlebar moustache AND beanie/bonnet AND sailor tattoos AND band-aids (meaning he is a hospo guy who works in a cool speakeasy serving tacos DUH) eats hot dog.  So Brooklyn.

Ze hipsters and their Anglophone ways have hit the Rive Gauche.  Nothing is sacred.  This can only mean the further proliferation of cafés with English-speaking staff serving avocado toast, flat whites and cold-pressed juices.  The immortels at the Academie need to catch on fast and give us some Frenchified versions of “fixie“, “aeropress” and “food truck“, before it is too late.

18 thoughts on “…you start using English words like a French person

  1. Pingback: Links we love | French at Melbourne

  2. Do you know how many words of English origin are from French? This is not right. We gladly made French words our own. Why can the French not show us the same respect? Why must the French offend us in this way? Would the French like it if a mass-movement to return English to its Anglo-Saxon roots took hold? The French influence in our language would be forced out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny post. I have noticed that words for various sorts of bad news are left in English, as if to get some distance from it. « Cancer » comes to mind, and I have noticed others. I’m still at the point where I try to keep the two languages separate. I’m impressed that you are comfortable with the mashup.


  4. Pingback: …you start using French expressions – You know you're turning Parisian when…

  5. Pingback: …you shut down over summer – You know you're turning Parisian when…

  6. LOL. (Is there an official French equivalent for that?)
    One I noticed recently is “badger” meaning to open the door by touching your badge to the reader. I also like “scotcher”, meaning to attach something with Scotch tape: As in: “Il est interdit de coller, scotcher, épingler, agrapher ou clouer des article sur ces murs.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s