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Tune into French television, or walk down any street with a decent number of shop windows, and you’re bombarded by English words and phrases, often used in amusingly off-key ways. The use of anglicisms is especially fervent among younger generations (and those trying to sell them something) but they have a way of permeating society, much to the ire of the Académie Française whose job it is to protect the French language.
Banned: May 3rd, 2012
French people say: Faire le buzz sur l’internet.
L’Académie française says: Faire parler sur l’internet.
Origins: This is one of the classic English crossover words for which there isn’t a French equivalent. Anyone familiar with animal noises in a second language knows how difficult onomatopoeia is to translate so it’s probably a good thing that no one has tried in this case.
Banned: October 4th, 2012
French people say: Elle est une fashionista.
L’Académie française says: Elle est une femme qui aime la mode.
Origins: English has always embraced foreign influences and this word was formed using the Italian and Spanish suffix ‘–ista’ to evoke a sense of continental chic. Thankfully, it has replaced the term fashion victim which the French used incorrectly for years. While loan words are common in French, they aren’t always used in the way you’d expect.
Banned: December 3rd, 2012
French people say: C’est vendredi la deadline.
L’Académie française says: C’est vendredi le dernier délai.
Origins: This word is derived from the ‘line of death’ which once marked the point after which prisoners risked being shot if they tried to escape. It can be translated into French in a variety of ways but the attraction of the English term lies in its severity.
Banned: January 26th, 2013
French people say: Hashtag Paris.
L’Académie française says: Mot-dièse Paris.
Origins: Perhaps of all the words on this list, the banning of hashtag attracted the most attention from the English-speaking media. New terms from the world of technology are often targeted by the Académie, who feel they have no place in proper French.
Banned: April 4th, 2013
French people say: Un business plan / Le sport business.
L’Académie française says: Un plan de développement / L’exploitation commerciale du sport.
Origins: This anglicism is one of the oldest. It was first used by journalist and author Jules Vallès in 1884. However, by the beginning of the 20th century, it had become a synonym for prostitution. In the 1950s, the phrase showbusiness (yes, one word in French) and its abbreviation showbiz appeared and its usage has grown from there.
Banned: October 3rd, 2013
French people say: Avoir du cash.
L’Académie française says: Avoir des espèces.
Origins: The English ‘cash’ and French caisse (checkout) are both derived from the Latin capsa, meaning a small box. Strangely, cash is also used as an adjective in French to describe someone with a lot of money, as in ‘Élisabeth II est cash !’
Banned: November 7th, 2013
French people say: Un appareil photo digital.
L’Académie française says: Un appareil photo numérique.
Origins: The Académie’s objection here is based on the fact that the word already exists in French to signify ‘that which belongs or refers to the fingers’. This is derived from the Latin digitalis which means ‘having the thickness of a finger’, a derivation of digitus or ‘finger’. It’s only in English that the act of counting on fingers led to the formation of ‘digit’ meaning ‘number’ and ‘digital’ meaning ‘uses numbers’.
Banned: January 6th, 2014
French people say: Répondre asap.
L’Académie française says: Répondre dès que possible.
Origins: This one really rubs the Académie up the wrong way. For them, ‘This abbreviation, which is far from transparent, seems to cumulate most of the vices of a language that conceals its contemptuous and comminatory character under the rags of a shoddy modernity.’ Ouch!
Banned: March 6th, 2014
French people say: Avoir des news.
L’Académie française says: Avoir des nouvelles.
Origins: Both the English and French terms are derived from the Latin novus (new) and, as such, the Académie sees no reason why the former should be preferred. But what a difference a syllable makes!
Banned: June 10th, 2014
French people say: Une voiture vintage.
L’Académie française says: Une voiture d’époque.
Origins: The English term is derived from ‘vintner’, an old term for a wine maker or merchant which came from the old French vinitier. The only ‘correct’ usage of vintage in modern French would be to describe a port wine. Anything else is considered linguistic sacrilege!
Banned: September 9th, 2014
French people say: Ne spoilez pas le film !
L’Académie française says: Ne dites pas la suite, le dénouement du film !
Origins: The arrival of the verb spoiler provoked a particularly strong reaction from the Académie. The English term is derived from the old French espoillier and before that the Latin spoliare. These gave rise to the verbs spolier (to strip) and dépouiller (to deprive). So, as the powers that be see it, there’s no need for this ‘bastard cross’ and the noun it brought with it.
Banned: November 6th, 2014
French people say: C’est un has been.
L’Académie française says: Il est d’un autre âge, d’un autre temps.
Origins: Ironically, even as the Académie was in the process of banning this term they noted that is was on the road to becoming has been itself. Sadly, for them at least, it is being replaced by another anglicism: out.
Banned: December 4th, 2014
French people say: LOL !
L’Académie française says: …
Origins: This abbreviation has, with limited success, been translated into French as MDR for mort de rire.
Banned: February 5th, 2015
French people say: Un concert retransmis en (direct) live.
L’Académie française says: Un concert retransmis en direct.
Origins: It’s the addition of en that the Académie takes issue with here more than the adjective itself. Understandably, they also hate it when it’s used redundantly with the French equivalent.
Banned: February 5th, 2015
French people say: Un dealer.
L’Académie française says: Un trafiquant de drogue.
Origins: This term entered into the French language, and many others, following the announcement of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, a metaphor related to the dealing of cards. However, its usage has since been restricted to illegal activity.
Banned: September 7th, 2015
French people say: Publier un scoop.
L’Académie française says: Publier une information en exclusivité.
Origins: The French translation, écope, has the same root (‘s’ often takes the place of an ‘é‘) but it carries none of the metaphorical meaning. The similar term coup de filet is used when describing fishing or police activity but doesn’t work for the press.
Banned: October 1st, 2015
French people say: Sa sœur a l’air cool / Le professeur est absent. – Cool, trop cool !
L’Académie française says: Sa sœur a l’air sympathique / Le professeur est absent. – Quelle bonne nouvelle !
Origins: Like so many loan words, only part of the meaning has made it across with this one. Used to mean something along the lines of chilled, relaxed, and pleasant, it isn’t often used in the more aggressive sense exemplified by James Dean.
Banned: March 3rd, 2016
French people say: Ce chanteur fait son come back sur scène après deux ans d’absence.
L’Académie française says: Ce chanteur remonte sur scène après deux ans d’absence.
Origins: Phrasal verbs are the ultimate pet peeve of French people learning English and yet, for undecipherable reasons, they choose to borrow them… as nouns. This is an English grammarian’s waking nightmare so it’s easy to sympathize with the Académie on this one. They, quite rightly, are also horrified by the emergence of the concrete nouns come backeur and come backeuse.
Banned: June 2nd, 2016
French people say: Une punch line brillante, amusante.
L’Académie française says: Une chute brillante, amusante.
Origins: Boxing pundits first borrowed ‘punch’ as a noun or adjective to describe particularly powerful athletes, as in, ‘Il a punch, lui !’ Afterwards, it was used generally to signify dynamism or energy. French equivalents to ‘punchline’ like choc and coup de poing have always existed hence the Académie’s dismay. (Again, note the willful misspelling.)
Banned: December 1st, 2016
French people say: Un nouveau label de vêtements / Les labels de musique indépendants.
L’Académie française says: Une nouvelle marque de vêtements / Les éditeurs de musique indépendants.
Origins: In old French, label means ribbon. This is the root of the modern word lambeau which signifies a ‘distinctive brand’ but only in the strict senses of a company’s adherence to labor laws or the specially designated quality of a product, a stamp of approval, essentially.