Xenophobe's® Guides: The French language obsession

Xenophobe's® Guides: The French language obsession

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New fad terms may be eliminated by French language purists, but where would the English language be without France's language preservation of 'rendezvous', 'gaffes' and 'fauxpas'?

Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.

The French language is what binds the French together. No other nation has fought so hard to preserve its language. An entire academy (the Académiefrançaise) works ceaselessly to ensure its purity, examining every word to make sure it's acceptable. New words that have crept into use are ruthlessly condemned.

The fad for franglais upsets many purists and French substitutes are provided, but it's hard to switch ‘un oil-rig' for ‘un appareil de forage en mer', ‘hotline' for ‘numéro d'urgence', or ‘corner kick' for ‘coup de pieds de coin'. On the web, ‘email' became ‘courriel', coined in Quebec from ‘courrier' (mail) and ‘électronique', which inspired ‘pourriel' for ‘spam' from ‘pourri' (rotten). But it's a losing battle since IT terms tend to be embraced before viable French alternatives can be created.

On the day that the death of Charles de Gaulle was announced, Noel Coward was asked what he thought the good General and God would find to talk about in Heaven. Coward replied: ‘That depends on how good God's French is.'

The linguistic bequest of the French to the world has been indispensable. What sort of romance could be conducted without a tête-à-tête, a rendezvous with the right ambiance, the odd nuance and some risquée repartee?

What sort of a war could anyone conduct without sabotage, manœuvres, the odd massacre, many and frequent mêlées, bags of esprit de corps, a little espionage, liaison, and ultimately détente?

How would we reveal that we were out of our milieu if we couldn't make gaffes and fauxpas to show that we were thoroughly gauche? What would we eat in a restaurant, a buffet, or a café without casseroles, fricassées, hors-d'œuvre, soufflés, vols au vent, escalopes, consommés, pâté, terrines, éclairs, croissants, omelettes, gâteaux, mousses and sauces...? And wouldn't everything simply be passé were it not for the avant-garde?

For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the French.



Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the French by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.

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