Centrally-planned peeving

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The Académie française has recently added to its website a feature Dire, Ne pas dire ("Say, Don't Say")

… qui donne le sentiment de l’Académie française sur les fautes, les tics de langage et les ridicules qui s’observent le plus fréquemment dans le français contemporain.

… which gives the feelings of the Académie française on the errors, clichés, and absurdities that are most often seen in contemporary French.

Lee Moran, "Fight against Franglais! French language website creates list of English words it wants to ban" (Daily Mail 10/12/2011) quotes Valérie Lecasble, communication consultant at the TBWA Corporate agency, as saying "if the Académie Française doesn't protect the French language, who will?"  This is a typically statist attitude — in terms of quantity, frequency, and intensity of peeving, Dire, Ne pas dire is far from matching the standard set by the Anglophone free-enterprise peeving system.

I must admit, however, that the Académie's level of quixoticity is quite competitive. Thus the current page on "Néologismes et anglicismes", though it gives a mere two peeves, pegs the quixotometer with this one:

Mot anglais très couramment employé, Best-of, souvent écrit Best-off, désigne une sélection d’airs d’opéra, de chansons, de sketchs, d’extraits d’émissions ayant connu un succès particulier.

A commonly-used English word, Best-of, often written Best-off, designates a selection of opera arias, of songs, of skits, of broadcast excerpts that have been especially popular.

Ce terme, qui tend avant tout à faire vendre les disques des chanteurs ou des imitateurs, est étendu à d’autres domaines pour désigner une revue sélective de ce qui a ou qui peut rencontrer la faveur du public. Le best-of de la mode, du design, un best-of de citations, de recettes.

This term, which mainly aims to sell the CDs of singers or their imitators, is heard in other areas to designate a selective review of things that have found or might find popular favor. The best-of of fashion, of design, a best-of of quotations, of recipes.

On peut dire la même chose en utilisant le mot français de florilège, la formule le meilleur de, ou, simplement, s’en tenir aux termes de revue, choix, sélection.

One can say the same thing by using the French word florilège ("anthology"), the phrase le meilleur de ("the best of"), or, simply, to limit oneself to the terms revue, choix, sélection.

A web search of the .fr domain suggests that "best of" is about 100 times more common than florilège; a search of recent French-language news articles comes up with the same proportion — about 30,000 to 300, in the case of the news articles.  Humpty-Dumpty has fallen off the wall. This train has left the station. This is an ex-peeve. It's rather like complaining that the borrowed French word chic should be replaced by the perfectly good English word stylish.

That seems also to have been the reaction of Prioul Sylvie, "L’Académie se réveille…", Le nouvel observateur 10/13/2011:

Les anglicismes en prennent aussi pour leur grade, dont le malheureux « best-of », qui n’en est pourtant pas à ses débuts, et que nos académiciens souhaitent voir remplacer par« florilège ».

Anglicisms are also taken to task, including the unfortunate "best-of", which is not exactly in its infancy, and which our academicians would like to see replaced by "anthology".

Exercise for the reader: re-write, in the terms recommended by l'Académie, the first paragraph of Laurent Sagalovitsch's music review, "Le plus grand groupe du monde de la terre", Slate.fr 10/12/2011:

Pour payer la très coûteuse maison de retraite de Morrissey qui, comme condition préalable à sa mise à l’écart, a exigé que tous les autres pensionnaires de son futur établissement mortuaire s’alimentent uniquement de salades venues du potager, il a bien fallu que les Smiths trouvent encore une astuce pour se renflouer. Cette fois, après le best of I, le best of II, le best of 3 et demie, le best of du best of, le top du best of, le pire du meilleur du best of, le coffret the Sound of the Smiths, the music of the Smiths, the Sound of the music of the Smiths, ils nous ont concocté une jolie valise du plus bel effet, intitulée l’intégrale remasterisée, avec pas moins de 8 CD à s’enfiler. Le top du top. The compil.

In scanning news sites for this post, I was interested to see how thoroughly permeated with borrowed English words the French language of fashion has become: "Le best of des street styles"; "Best-of des plus jolis looks de la semaine"; etc.

And as an ironic wrap-up, consider "5 ans de culture et de bon français à Secret story" ("5 years of culture and of good French at Secret Story"):

L'after de secret story a diffusé ce vendredi 6 octobre 2011 un best off bien croustillant de toutes les grosses fautes de français des candidats au fil de ces 5ans d'émission…

Secret Story's wrap-up aired this Friday 6 October 2011 a really crunchy compilation ("best off") of all the serious errors of French usage by the candidates in the course of its five years of episodes…


  1. Alon Lischinsky said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 8:02 am

    Can't say it surprises me, but then, I'm a native speaker of a language that has been thoroughly peeved on by the ridiculously-named Fundación del Español Urgente which claims to "evitar [la] dispersión y empobrecimiento [del español] y la invasión indiscriminada de extranjerismos innecesarios o neologismos superfluos" (prevent the dispersion and impoverishment [of Spanish] and the indiscriminate invasion of unnecessary borrowings and superfluous neologisms).

    I've never been able to figure out what do they mean by "unnecessary" or "superfluous". I mean, Spanish has three patrimonial terms for 'red' (colorado, encarnado, rojo), and I've never seen anyone complaining about their superfluity. Or seeking to eradicate all those unnecessary Visigothicisms (ropa, guerra, guardián, etc.) for which we had perfectly good Latinate alternatives to begin with…

  2. Leonardo Boiko said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 8:28 am

    The idea of French that the Académie supports makes me feel like it’s a conlang.

    But they are at their worst when it comes to linguistic prejudice.

    [(myl) Or see "The Academy strikes back", 7/9/2008.]

  3. Riikka said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    It never fails to amuse me to hear the fashion experts declare this and that garment "so cheek". This might be one of the reasons why I am such a fan of Project Runway.

  4. Mr Punch said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 9:01 am

    Yeah, this is what the AF does; has been doing for a long time. Not as silly as the Quebecois, though. BTW, in the first quote, I'd translate "sentiment" as "opinion" or "judgment" rather than "feelings."

  5. George said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    Don't want to pile it on after Mr. Punch above but "des chanteurs ou des imitateurs" would be "of singers and impressionists" (that's impressionists in the sense of comedians who imitate well-known people – I don't know if a different term is used in North America).

  6. George said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 9:42 am

    On a more substantive point, I've sometimes wondered whether 'un mot ou terme plus ou moins dérivé d'anglais' can really be considered 'un anglicisme' if it doesn't mean anything like what it means in English and would in all likelihood leave a native English-speaker bamboozled on a first hearing. Like 'un after'.

  7. PubliusFL said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 9:48 am

    "Dire, ne pas dire" reminds me of nothing so much as the Appendix Probi. And hey, that worked really well.

  8. Hugo said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 9:53 am

    As a native speaker of French from Québec, I am horrified by both the increasing use of anglicisms and their treatment by the Académie.

    First, I'd like to note that the examples cited above are typical from France and are not so idiomatic in Quebec. For instance, "Best-of" could be used in an unofficial setting, and "Best-off" would be ridiculed. I also think it's funny they point out "best-of" in "best-of du design" but say nothing about "design" being English…

    I don't want to say we are better in Quebec, and we do have our share of anglicism, notably when talking about car mechanics or engineering. However, these terms (drive-shaft, stud, strap…) never make it into levels of language above familiar. "Je bois un 'ice-tea' en faisant du 'shopping' pour acheter un 'pull'" would sound perfectly normal in France, even if not a single noun in that sentence is French. Here, many people would be puzzled by what you said.

    It's true that the French language is deteriorating, and I'm all for protecting it. But "florilège"? I don't think I had encountered that word before… "Le meilleur de", "Les plus grands succès", etc. are just fine and this is what is used in Québec.

    In my opinion, the Académie is right for wanting to educate people about using the "right" words, but it needs to find another, more consistent and realistic way… In that matter, I like how our own Office québécois de la langue française is handling the situation. They don't straightforward prohibit anglicisms even though they strongly suggest using French alternatives. They also propose French equivalents for new words coming from English. The most notable is probably "courriel" for "email", which is quite common in Quebec but unheard of in France, where they use "email".

    But then again, the situation of language in Québec is particular, drowning like it is in a sea of English.

  9. Pete said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 10:00 am

    Hugo – what will happen if this deterioration continues apace? Will the French eventually lose their ability to communicate?

  10. Craig Russell said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 10:46 am


    Yeah, but "design" in English is from 15th century French "des(s)eign"!

    I'm guessing that "florilège" is a (recent?) attempt to use French roots to calque "anthologie" (from Greek anthos (flower) and legein (collect) — the term was used metaphorically in ancient Greek for a collection of poems, etc. that is like a "bouquet" of choice selections).

    Both of these examples illustrate how porous the boundaries between languages are, and have always been. Is that really deterioration? Of course it should go without saying that historically far more French has infiltrated English vocabulary than the reverse. And we don't mind!

    [(myl) Mind, hell — As James D. Nicoll famously wrote,

    The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.


  11. Faldone said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    I've always felt the English deteriorated to the point of becoming an international language thanks, in large part, to its contamination by French words.

  12. Ginger Yellow said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    I love the idea that the first thing that comes to the Academie's mind when giving examples of best-ofs is opera arias. I don't know if they are particularly over-represented in French best-ofs, but either way the idea tickles me pink.

  13. RP said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    I am not clear what Hugo thinks the French are doing wrong. After all, according to reports, the French did try to popularise the term "courriel" ( http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2003/07/59674 ) – it's just that they didn't succeed.

  14. Jon Weinberg said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    I think we can conclude that the French are incapable of understanding the concepts of selection and discrimination, seeing as — apparently — there is no word in French for "collection of the best of something." How do they get by?

  15. Robert Coren said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 11:01 am

    I'm amused, and a bit taken aback, at reading a French complaint about the Anglicism "best-of" that includes "sketchs" among its examples.

  16. Mark Etherton said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    There are also examples of French anglicismes (or at least expressions derived from English) for which there is no one-word equivalent in English, such as 'co-recordwoman' for 'female joint holder of a world record'. Not to speak of gallicisms derived from anglicismes ('redingote' from 'redingote' from 'riding coat').

    @Craig Russell

    The Academie's dictionary says 'florilège' is C17. Similarly, the OED's earliest example of 'florilegium' is 1647. Difficult to tell whether the word is an anglicisme, a gallicism or simply a latinism.

  17. Not My Leg said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    I assume that when they say "often written best-off" they mean often written that way in France. I don't recall ever having come across a "best-off" compilation in the United States.

  18. Hugo said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 11:54 am

    "Deteriorating" is a very strong word, and I should take it back. French is not deteriorating as much as it is losing parts of its identity. Borrowing words here and there from foreign languages isn't a bad thing, and it's not deterioration. All languages have been doing it for centuries with success and they won't stop tomorrow.

    "Caméraman" is French, and as far as I know, it's the only noun in that language describing this exact reality. It's so French that I'd bet someone who didn't know English would never even suspect that it has an English origin, they couldn't analyse it as roughly meaning "a man with a camera". It's a foreign word that was chosen for describing a new reality at the time, probably in a way similar to "redingote" (I'm guessing here, don't take my word), and it's just fine! From Italian came "expresso" from "espresso" too, and it's also fine! We needed a word for something that we didn't know before, and it turned out there was already a word for it!

    My problem is with words that get totally replaced by their English equivalents when the original French word did the job. What's wrong with "thé glacé" so that we need to call it "ice tea"? What's wrong with "magasinage" (people from France usually don't even understand the word) so that we need to call it "shopping"? The words exist in the language, why use words from another one?

    By the way, "florilège" IS a horrible choice, but we do have "anthologie" and "compilation", which are pretty much synonyms and are just fine, in case you don't want to use one of the longer phrases cited.

    Oh and no, Pete, we won't lose our ability to communicate, of course. :) But I do feel our cultural identity is taking a hit.

  19. Chandra said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    Ah, the Académie Française. Setting the bar for prescriptive peevery since 1635. I wonder how linguists in French universities fare?

    In defense of the Québécois, they do in a sense have more cause to be alarmed by the potential influx of anglicisms, if you take into account what has happened to, for example, indigenous languages in places where the English language and culture have come to dominate. Not that I think language by-laws and vocabulary injunctions will have much effect on whatever eventual changes will take place, but it's easy enough to see why, as a minority in a largely English-speaking country, they might be more nervous about the issue.

  20. Nathan said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    Soothly we live in mighty years!

  21. Rod Johnson said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    Florilegium was borrowed into English (and presumably French) from medieval Latin, where it had been in use for several centuries. So I think Craig Russell is half right–it was a calque of ἀνθολογία using Latin roots, not French. Like chrestomathy, it has nuances that distinguish it from other words for collections of texts. In English, at least nowadays, it's mainly used with botanical subjects (and rarely with them), as far as I know.

  22. Keith said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    This is one of the most amusing blog entries I've seen this month. I chuckled out loud to read "Best-of … de sketchs", for the same reason as Robert Coren.

    And that extract from Laurent Sagalovitsch's review is without doubt the funniest piece of French I've read in years.

    I can understand why it is often written "best-off": most French, even if they have had more than a rudimentary introduction to the English language in school, have trouble with final /f/ being voiced to /v/, and pronounce it as /f/. Perhaps this is reinforced by all the other uses of the word "off" in English (e.g. take off, let off… etc).


  23. Dan Hemmens said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    What's wrong with "thé glacé" so that we need to call it "ice tea"?

    I suspect that the only answer there can be to this question is: "nothing, except that a significant proportion of French people clearly prefer the latter, as evidenced by the fact that they choose to use it."

    There's nothing wrong with the English words "refectory", "dining hall" or "cafeteria" but we often prefer to use the (as I understand it) Cantonese-derived loanword "canteen".

  24. Craig Russell said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

    There's also nothing wrong with us English speakers ordering "pig" or "cow" in a restaurant, but we prefer to use the French derived "pork" and "beef"…

  25. Hugo said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

    @Dan Hemmens

    "as evidenced by the fact that they choose to use it." I'm not too sure about the idea of a "choice". From my own (unscientific) experience, asking for a thé glacé in France will get you strange looks, and many simply don't understand what you are talking about. On the opposite, a few weeks ago, I had to listen to a clip three times before I could parse that the person was saying "ice tea". For each side of the sea, there is only one possibility, not really a "choice". It feels like two different languages sometimes… I think because of our situation, we insist on having a language of our own, whereas France doesn't care so much.

    Also, according to various online dictionaries I searched, "canteen" was introduced in the 18th century from French "cantine", itself from Italian (or Star Wars?) "cantina". I'm curious to know how you came to think it was Cantonese in origin?

  26. Bob Moore said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    > This is an ex-peeve.

    Perhaps it's merely pinin' for the fjords.

  27. Hugo said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

    @Craig Russell

    I learned not so long ago* that "pig", "cow" and the like were Anglo-Saxon in origin, so were used by commoners, tenders of the animals; and "pork" and "beef" were Norman (French "porc" and "boeuf"), so were used by the aristocracy, those who ate the meat. Another case of French "contaminating" English, yes. But then again, the words have been derived and have a slightly different meaning. We have tons of those in French too (redingote!). After all, maybe the same will happen with "ice tea" and others over time, who knows!

    *I bet that many LL readers can back me up on this, and maybe provide a reference? The better I could quickly find is this: http://ask.metafilter.com/28427/Why-is-it-beef-not-cow

  28. Dan Hemmens said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    I'm curious to know how you came to think it was Cantonese in origin?

    Honestly I'm not sure I suspect it's one of those random language myths you stumble across.

  29. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

    @Dan Hemmens:
    Ironically, I believe canteen came into English from the French cantine. Did it enter French from Cantonese?

  30. Aaron Toivo said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 4:18 pm


    That's essentially right as far as I know, though I'd be glad to have a more definitive reference too. Cow/beef and pig/pork aren't the only such pairs, there's also calf/veal, deer/venison, and also sheep/mutton, mentioned in your link. There may be others I'm forgetting. However, "lamb" is native, according to a quick check of dictionary.com.

  31. Mark Etherton said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

    This is all rather off-topic, but the OED says "< French cantine , < Italian cantina cellar, cave, of doubtful deriv.: see Diez and Littré." Littré says "Ital. cantina, cave, cellier ; d'après Diez, du même radical que cantone, coin, recoin, d'où cantine ; d'après Ménage, contraction de canovettina, petite cave, diminutif de canova, cave ; mais d'après Tardieu, de quintana, lieu dans les camps romains où l'on vendait toute sorte de choses, et dont le nom était passé dans le langage vulgaire ; car Suétone, Néron, 26, dit de ce prince qui, s'amusant à dévaliser les boutiques, s'amusait aussi à vendre le fruit de son pillage : Quintana domi constituta, un marché établi dans son palais. Cette étymologie très probable suppose une interversion des voyelles. La quintana était dite de quintus, cinquième."

  32. Dan Hemmens said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    Ironically, I believe canteen came into English from the French cantine. Did it enter French from Cantonese?

    Having actually bothered to double check myself, the Cantonese connection is almost certainly a folk-etymology based on an odd coincidence of transliteration (previously discussed on LL here. Not sure where I picked it up from, I vaguely recall seeing it on a poster somewhere.

    Either way, the broader point was that we use a loanword (whatever the source language was) when there are perfectly good "English" terms we could use. A somewhat better and less muddy example (and one cited in the original post) would be "chic".

  33. Rod Johnson said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

    Peeving about English fills me with boredom, but peeving about French fills me with ennui. :)

  34. Andy Averill said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

    I thought of checking Amazon France to see whether "meilleur de" or "best of" was more popular for compilation CD's by francophone pop artists. It's not possible to get hard numbers because Amazon's results include titles that don't actually contain either phrase. But I found some interesting examples. There are certainly albums with "le meilleur de" in the title:

    Le meilleur de Pierre Bachelet
    Le meilleur de Michel Legrand

    But searching for "the best of", I made an interesting discovery. Apparently the anglicism employed most frequently isn't "the best of xyz", but "best of de xyz":

    Best of de Hugues Aufray
    Best of de Christophe

    Although I also saw "Best of Sylvie Dartan", along with "The Best & Le Meilleur de Tina Arena et Marc Anthony". The most creative title I found was an album by Patrick Sébastien entitled "La Best Teuf".

  35. Andy Averill said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

    Oops, apparently Tina Arena is Australian, not francophone. And the actual album cover doesn't mention Marc Anthony. But the title of the French release is still "The Best & Le Meilleur de Tina Arena".

  36. JR said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

    Andy, did you happen to see any "best of de sketchs"?

  37. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

    English has benefited from its borrowings, no question. And we now live in a world where there is no prestige attached to dousing your prose in gallicisms or snippets of latin, where English is regarded as the primary lingua franca, and English-speaking countries dominate politically and economically. So it may be hard to understand where the Academy is coming from. But read a list of recent borrowings into business Russian, a language with an incredible system for coining native neologisms, and try to keep yourself from cringing. The borrowing is so gratuitous, so tasteless, so servile. Communication is unhampered, but style? And what really gets me is that the same gloopy English words raspostranate everywhere. "Shopping," of all words!! If the zaimstvovation were mutual or nimnoshkо innovative, I wouldn't bother my golovа about it one wink. If words were picked to fill a lacuna in the language or for their euphony, it'd be ponyatno. But instead they're often used to obfuscate (escaping the natural connotations of the regular word and cashing in on English's cashe) or to appear trendy, progressive, international (or more accurately, non-Russian), and upper-class. Don't get me started on the calques!

  38. Craig Russell said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

    @Joe Rembetikoff

    My apologies if you're being ironic and I'm too thick to get it. But…

    No prestige attached to "dousing your prose in gallicisms or snippets of Latin"? To take your own paragraph as an example, would you say there's no difference in prestige between "coining neologisms" and "coining new words"? "Fill a lacuna" vs. "fill a hole"? "Euphony" vs "sounding good"? "Obfuscate" vs "make unclear"? Or even your snippet of Latin "lingua franca" vs "common language"? Intellectual, scholarly, medical, legal, etc. language differentiates itself regularly by choosing French/Latin/Greek terms over native Anglo-Saxon stock.

  39. the other Mark P said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

    A major problem the Academy has is that when French people buy records they will buy ones titled "Best of …" all the time – because they buy Anglo artists.So they have to know what "best of" means in order to make appropriate choices. Which means it will stay in usage, no matter how much they peeve.

    The only way "le meilleur de" will take over is if all those Anglo bands are banished from French shopping baskets. (Which I imagine many in the Académie would love!)

    I really don't get their problem. New concepts mean new words, and basically all the words being discussed are recent concepts. How would French be improved by courriel rather than email? Both are new words, regardless, but one allows international understanding. The only reason for choosing courriel is anti-English sentiment.

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 17, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    Some random googling reveals that there's also a "Best Off" album by Kitchen & the Plastic Spoons, who are said by wikipedia to have been a Swedish experimental synthesizer based punk band who floruit circa '80-'81 (with this, um, florilegium coming out much more recently and thus decades after the fact). So maybe it's not just the French who turn "best of" into "best off" (some sort of eggcorn reanalysis?), although for all I know they called their best-of album that as a joke at the expense of the French . . .

  41. marie-lucie said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 12:04 am

    As an expatriate French person, I find the huge amount of English (and sometimes pseud-English) words used in France quite hard to take. In Québec large numbers of francophones are fluent in English and are eager to show and practice their knowledge of French vocabulary, but in France many people have taken English as a subject in school and are eager to show off their (usually very limited) knowledge of English. When I am in France I sometimes hear unknown words which turn out to be English words I know very well, but spoken in such a way, or with such a meaning, that I don't recognize them.

    However, what I find most disturbing is not the extra vocabulary, or even the English meanings of similar words replacing the French meanings, but the distorted syntax resulting from what I think are hasty if not incompetent translations of articles written in English. Very basic syntax looks very similar in French and English, but even slightly more elaborate syntax (even in everyday spoken language) is (or used to be) very different. Almost word for word translations, or misunderstandings of the different pragmatics and stylistics of the two languages, I find particularly disturbing, but all the discussions I have seen in the media and even in the prescriptions of the Académie only deal with vocabulary. Perhaps it is because new words are so much easier to recognize than awkward syntax which has steadily and sneakily crept in over the years.

    Take for instance the "book abstract" format: English authors will start with "This is a grammar of X language" or some such wording. I have seen French books introduced with "C'est une grammaire …" which (in this context) does not mean "This is …" but "It is …", which would be OK as an answer to a question about the identity of the object but is inappropriate in the absence of a previous mention of the relevant noun. Or, in a book with quotes: translating both "This is what X said" and "That's what X said" with "C'est ce que X a dit" which means "It's what X said", instead of "Voici ce qu'il a dit" (announcing the quoted words) or "Voilà ce qu'il a dit" (after the quoted words). These are just a few examples of short sentences. Another thing is apparently automatic translation of "I was" (and you were, etc) as "J'étais", instead of using "J'étais" and "j'ai été" appropriately ("j'étais" implies 'I was [already]', as opposed to "j'ai été" 'I was, I became [at or from that moment]).
    I am sure I could fill a book with longer examples of distortions and misunderstandings – things that French teachers of anglophones try hard to keep their students from now occur right on the pages of Le Monde and other supposedly high-caliber sources – but I find this sort of task depressing to contemplate.

    florilège: This word is very literary and old-fashioned, and even though it does mean a collection of poems or songs, I find it inappropriate in the context of the best or most fashionable works of a modern author or singer/songwriter or representatives of a modern genre: I would expect a florilège to contain traditional folk songs, at most "golden oldies", or perhaps medieval poems.

    (Hugo: why use "shopping" when there is "magasinage"? – because "magasinage" is itself a loan-translation of English "shopping". Neither this noun nor the verb "magasiner" for 'to shop' are used in France).

    [(myl) Thanks, Marie-Lucie — clearly the Académie needs to elect you and ask you to manage Dire Ne pas Dire…]

  42. RP said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 3:40 am

    Saying "shopping" isn't mandatory even in France – you can say "faire des courses".

    The online edition of the Académie's dictionary ( http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/generic/form.exe?32;s=3476084775; ) says that "magasinage" dates to the 17th century – however, it is defined not as shopping but as the action of depositing merchandise at a shop. This is the only translation given. (Larousse gives both meanings and specifies that the meaning "shopping" is Québecois: http://www.larousse.com/en/dictionaries/french-english/magasinage/48426 .)

  43. RP said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 4:22 am

    @Andy, Tina Arena has produced albums in French as well as in English. Probably the title "the best & le meilleur de" was chosen to reflect that. (The use of the word "the" also suggests that the first two words are in English rather than being a use of the loan-expression "best-of". )

  44. George said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 7:17 am

    @RP, there is a difference btween 'faire du shopping' and 'faire des courses'. You don't 'faire du shopping' at the supermarket, grocer's, etc. but that's where you'd probably 'faire les courses'. 'Le shopping' is is shopping of a very particular kind and usually involves clothes. The expression 'shop till you drop' comes to mind.

  45. Phil Jennings said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 7:59 am

    Marie-Lucie – Encountering the word 'magazin' in Farsi (meaning 'shop' I think), I had assumed it was a loan from French like 'merci', but if that is denied, could the borrowing have gone the other way? In which case it may have been taken into English from that same source.

  46. RP said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    @George, You are probably right, although it seems usage may vary. In the WordReference forums, some French commenters equated "des courses" (unlike "les couses") with "du shopping" – e.g. comment #5 here http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1629291&highlight=faire+des+les+courses – while others have drawn the same distinction you have ( e.g. http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1167521 comment 15 – which suggests, however, that an alternative to "faire du shopping" might be "faire les magasins").

  47. Geraint Jennings said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 8:22 am

    Those unfamiliar with the "best-off" phenomenon might also care to search the spelling "bestophe".

    On "shop", since it was an Anglo-French import into the English language to begin with, there's no reason why it shouldn't slip back into French. As collateral, Guernésiais has noun "la choppe" (for "the shop"), verb "choppaï", and noun "lé choppotin" (shopping) – but we haven't got the equivalent forms in Jèrriais (we use "la boutique", "boutitchi" and "la boutiqu'sie" respectively).

  48. Keith said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    Quick search on Amazon.fr

    Musique ›"le best-of de" Résultats 1 – 12 sur 75 818

    A few examples from the list:
    Best Of de Lynda Lemay (CD – 2011)
    Best Of de Serge Gainsbourg (CD – 2009)
    Best Of de Gipsy Kings (CD – 2011)
    Best Of de Maurane (CD – 2008)
    Best Of de Michele Torr et Michelle Torr (CD – 2011)
    Best Of de Mano Negra (CD – 1998)
    Best Of de Kassav' (CD – 2006)
    Best Of de Bébé Lilly (CD – 2009)
    Best Of de Vanessa Paradis (CD – 2010)
    Le Best Of de Boby Lapointe (CD – 2009)

    I'm not going on any further, I think I've made the point that non-francophone artists do not outnumber francophone artists in the "Best Of" albums.

    But a more interesting point is that for the French the term "Best Of" (with or without a hyphen, with or without a second f has become effectively a single word (is lexeme the correct term?) , and has become a French word synonymous with "meilleur" (note, not "meilleur de"; such that there is no problem in following the genitive particle "of" with another genitive particle "de".


  49. Clay said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 9:24 am

    When I visited France c. 1997 I was amused to see "Best of Big Macs" (meaning a Big Mac combo with fries and a drink) at a McDonald's.

  50. Guy said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 9:49 am

    Re: "canteen" being derived from Cantonese
    The confusion I believe results from the Chinese word 餐廳 (Mandarin: can1 ting1, Cantonese: caan ting) which means restaurant or dining hall.

    Purely from an aesthetic point of view, English-infused French writing does not look pretty. I've noticed it looks even worse in written Italian, where the anglicisms are more numerous and, due to the nature of the Italian spelling system, even more foreign looking.

    At least European languages have the benefit of using a Latin alphabet which fits well with English. Here in Taiwan, I often see English and Chinese mashed together, which not only looks awful but sometimes they are written in different directions, so you have to rotate the page to read it (yes, it is that stupid!).

    Another problem I find with excessive use of anglicisms in Taiwan, is that Chinese-speakers often try to maintain the English pronunciation but they still have a bit of their own accent, so its not always immediately understandable (context helps). Also, I've quickly realised you cannot use anglicisms with older people, they will find it too strange.

    Do French-speakers maintain the original pronunciation of English-words when speaking French?

  51. Laura said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:03 am

    I vote Marie-Lucie for this month's Comment of the Month award for that lucid, enlightening and fascinating comment. I have only school-level French (and deteriorating rapidly) and so when I read French text it's very evident to me just how different the syntax is from English syntax. It's interesting to know that that's also being 'contaminated'.

    Regarding 'email' – it's also sort of a foreign loan (though only from another dialect) in British English, as we don't really use the term 'mail', either as a noun or a verb. Obviously it exists (e.g. Royal Mail), but almost all speakers use 'post' instead to refer to physically sending a letter or parcel. When email first appeared, I found the term briefly jarring till I got over myself. I couldn't think of a good replacement though – epost didn't seem right, and the subsequent existence of blog 'posts' would have made that a terrible choice.

  52. George said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:08 am

    @ Guy "Do French-speakers maintain the original pronunciation of English-words when speaking French?"

    In France, as a rule, no, and unsurprisingly so. On the other hand, most Québecois seem, in my experience, to get a North American English accent pretty right (when pronouncing actual English words while speaking French), again unsurprisingly so. But, paradoxically, getting the accent right, which suggests deep familiarity with English, is precisely what throws the 'foreign' nature of the words into relief…

  53. Andy Averill said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:11 am

    Following up on my exploration of Amazon France, I wondered whether "best of" is in fact a noun in French. The answer seems to be that it is. Searching Google France for "un best of" yields over 2 million hits, usually with a hyphen:

    Alors que nous avions eu vent d'une intégrale, c'est finalement un best-of qui devancera la ressortie de tous les albums de Benjamin Biolay.

    Une question lancée à mes lecteurs cette semaine. Comment déterminer le best-of d'un blog?

    Voici une nouvelle vidéo de Rémi Gaillard, un best of 100% foot tournée (certainement) au lendemain de la Coupe du Monde 2010.

    Pour commencer 2011, un best-of de l'année 2010!

  54. George said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    … to the extent that I sometimes wonder if that's part of the point. I know that I, a native English speaker having lived a good chunk of my adult life in France, tend to pronounce English words – including my own name! – à la française when I'm speaking French. The oral gymnastics involved in doing otherwise are just a bit too much trouble.

  55. Andy Averill said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    @marie-lucie, as an American who occasionally tries to speak French, I'm sure I've made all the mistakes you mention. But are you really saying that the same elementary mistakes are starting to show up in respectable French publications? That's kind of shocking…

  56. Brad D said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    Given that we obtained a substantial chunk of our language from the French, I consider these words which make their way back across the channel to be simple interest payments on a linguistic debt.

    Though perhaps given the rather violent mechanism by which French invaded English, these Franglais terms could be viewed by some as a belated linguistic counterstrike, I suppose.

  57. Guy said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 11:33 am

    I suspect English is probably having this effect on all languages.

    I sometimes read Chinese-language newspaper or other articles which, while grammatically acceptable, have such an awkward syntax or structure that it could only have been translated from English to get such a result.

    The classic offender is the use of "passive voice" in Chinese writing (most commonly represented by the character 被 bei4). Passive voice was previously only used to emphasise the occurrence of something bad or negative, but lazy translators tend to use it anytime an English sentence uses passive voice.

    I realize language is a living, breathing thing which changes and evolves but…but stuff like this makes me more and more of a language purist!

  58. Dan T. said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 11:40 am

    Former Beatle Pete Best released an album Best of the Beatles, possibly trying to mislead people into buying it as an actual Beatles best-of compilation.

    "Canteen", to me, has the primary connotation of a metal water bottle used by hikers.

    Sending a message to a Usenet newsgroup has always been called "posting", and the message a "post".

  59. Jim said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    "If words were picked to fill a lacuna in the language or for their euphony, it'd be ponyatno. But instead they're often used to obfuscate …"

    Since one of the things professional jargon is used to communicate is exclusivity and the value of belonging to the in-group, that obfuscation looks like a feature and not a bug.

  60. Lane said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    On the language of fashion, the French aren't alone in the use of English. It seems to me from the occasional Danish fashion magazines that my wife gets from visiting friends and mothers-in-law have more English-per-wordcount than any other kind of Danish. Just check out one website:


    The short description for Eurowoman that comes up in Google says it all: "Mode, shopping, skønhed & catwalk-look." Four words, one of them native Danish. (skønhed = beauty.)

  61. Faldone said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    Rod Johnson: Peeving about English fills me with boredom, but peeving about French fills me with ennui. :)

    There's a certain je-ne-sais-quoi when you say something in French that's just I-don't-know-what when you say it in English.

  62. lucia said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 8:42 pm


    There's a certain je-ne-sais-quoi when you say something in French that's just I-don't-know-what when you say it in English.

    I think Bertie Wooster expresses the idea using "a certain 'what's-it'?"

    I've never heard or read anyone else use it, but it sound like the correct way to express the sentiment in English to me.

  63. Rod Johnson said,

    October 18, 2011 @ 10:05 pm

    @Faldone: ha ha, nice.

  64. Jason said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 2:16 am

    @Hugo: Perhaps you don't know how brave you are endorsing Francocentric prescriptivism on a blog run by linguists. It's just not a receptive crowd here, you know?

  65. Matt said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 7:19 am

    This is a typically statist attitude – in terms of quantity, frequency, and intensity of peeving, Dire, Ne pas dire is far from matching the standard set by the Anglophone free-enterprise peeving system.

    I must protest at this. By eliminating the need for reduplication of effort, centralization has many benefits. We see in English that language cranks spend most of their diatribes ticking off the same old boxes (passive voice! sentences ending in prepositions! singular they!), leaving them only limited resources to come up with truly innovative nonsense. The French Academy, on the other hand, covered the basics long ago and now have the free time to entertain us all by using "opera arias" as their first example of what a "best-of" might be the best of.

  66. Army1987 said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    Speaking of borrowings, if it were up to me nuclear fusion and nuclear fission would be known as “kernel splitting” and “kernel merging”, respectively. :-)

  67. Shazback said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

    @Hugo : "What's wrong with "magasinage" (people from France usually don't even understand the word) so that we need to call it "shopping"?"

    "Magasinage" does not mean the same thing as "shopping". "Shopping" (in English) is when people take time to visit shops, with the intent of purchasing items. "Magasinage" (in French) is the act of stocking an item, or by extension the period of time an item is in stock in a shop.

    The appropriation of "shopping" in French was exactly because such a concept did not exist in French. Canadian French changed the meaning of "magasinage" to mimic "shopping" at the beginning of the 20th century, under the influence of their southern neighbours. But the original meaning (and the one that is still used sometimes in France) goes back to the 17th century.

  68. the other Mark P said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

    @ Guy "Do French-speakers maintain the original pronunciation of English-words when speaking French?"

    My French accent was pretty bad, but when I lived in France nothing was as hard as ordering at McDonalds.

    French words were no problem: it was the formerly English ones that left me stumped. I would approach "happy meal" with extreme trepidation. Should I pronounce the "h"? (I can, as an Anglo obviously. Older French people can't, and don't even really hear it. But younger ones sort of can say it and can certainly hear it when it is said.)

  69. Rod Johnson said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    @Army1987: … are you sure about that?

  70. marie-lucie said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 10:23 pm


    The word magasin (from Arabic, probably through Italian magazzino, according to the TLFI online dictionary) originally meant 'warehouse', a place where wares are stored before being sold or shipped. The verb emmagasiner means primarily 'to place (things) into a warehouse, to warehouse (things)'. Magasin or English magazine still has this meaning of 'storage place' in some other contexts.

    A shop (OF une échoppe) was a working place, where things were made and then sold, like bread, but especially made to order, like shoes or clothes before the advent of mass production. The infamous sweatshops were also places of work. Note that in English, "to talk shop" is not to talk about shopping but about one's work, with one's workmates but while away from the "shop".

    Once a shop sold ready-made finished products made elsewhere, the place where they were still made by hand became a workshop.

    The meaning of magasin or English store as a place where a variety of things have been brought to be sold developed secondarily.

    In the XIXth century, some periodicals adopted the designation magasin for a kind of all-purpose publication appealing to a variety of interests and tastes (eg the French Le magasin des dames et des demoiselles, lit. 'the [married] ladies and [young unmarried] ladies' storehouse', a publication for women dealing with fashion and a variety of other topics). The English word magazine for this type of publication has the same origin, and the English word spread to French to mean a regular publication of general interest.

    "Do French-speakers maintain the original pronunciation of English-words when speaking French?"

    Not any more than English speakers maintain the pronunciation of French words when speaking English. As someone pointed out earlier, it is very difficult to switch one's method of articulation when pronouncing just the odd foreign word (as opposed to carrying on a conversation in the foreign language one speaks fluently). Also, if the word is commonly used in the other language, it has acquired a local pronunciation which is recognized locally.

    Another factor is that people who have learned a language in school (up to a point) may know basic vocabulary but cannot be expected to be familiar with the pronunciation of commercial names, which change constantly as new items are introduced. Even if such words are heard on radio or TV ads, the announcers will probably pronounce them with their own local accent.

  71. marie-lucie said,

    October 19, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    faire les/des courses

    The choice of article makes a difference. Faire les courses refers to the (almost) daily, indispensable shopping activities that everyone engages in, such as buying bread and groceries, while faire des courses could involve other activities than shopping, such as going to the post office, getting a prescription filled at a pharmacy, and other such errands, as well as doing some non-urgent shopping. If someone says J'ai une course à faire, they are probably not talking about shopping for the family dinner at the supermarket or the boulangerie.

    Two other expressions meaning "to shop, to go shopping" are faire des achats and faire des emplettes, the latter I think now very old-fashioned.

    Faire les magasins or courir les magasins could mean going on a reconnaissance mission to see what is available in stores, without necessarily buying anything.

  72. Bloix said,

    October 20, 2011 @ 9:21 pm

    English-speakers generally think it's funny when non-English speakers express an interest in not speaking English. Linguists apparently are not immune.

  73. George said,

    October 21, 2011 @ 4:15 am


    I don't think, in fairness, that's it's a question of finding "non-English speakers express[ing] an interest in not speaking English" funny. It's more a question of finding the idea that an official body can decree what is and what is not acceptable (and hope to be listened to by real, living users of a real, living language) funny. But you're probably right that it shouldn't be considered funny, if by funny we mean something worthy of scorn, however misguided or wrong we may think it is.

    I also find the idea that somehow pointing out how many words from other languages have found their way into English, as if this was just a question of give and take between equals, misses the point, as it ignores the power dynamics involved. To draw an analogy, foreign words coming into English is akin to immigration, while English words entering other languages can be considered more like colonisation. Both involve movement (of words or of people) but they're very different things. So I do have quite a lot of sympathy for those who are uncomfortable with a surfeit of anglicisms in their languages. However, I don't think the solution can be found by issuing decrees.


    I didn't go sufficiently into the distinction between 'faire les courses' and 'faire des courses' when I addressed the question of 'le shopping'. But your post on that distinction reminds me of a similar (pair of)expression(s) widely used in Ireland (and elsewhere?) when I was a child, although less so now (I feel), which is 'doing the/some messages'.

  74. C said,

    October 22, 2011 @ 9:45 am


    At the risk of stating the obvious, French and English have both been in the position of the "colonizing" language with regard to each other.

  75. marie-lucie said,

    October 23, 2011 @ 8:33 am

    But the situations were different. In England, French-speaking Norman conquerors (not "the French" as a nation) established themselves as an aristocracy and their descendants (who ended up speaking English) are still there, thoroughly blended with the rest of the population. In present-day France, the English language is being propagated not directly through an English-speaking population lording it over the French people but indirectly through translations of American cultural products such as TV series and written publications, as well as through widespread but usually very imperfect learning of English in schools.

  76. dfgk04 said,

    October 25, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    French linguist here, living in Germany, teaching French linguistics to students of French as a foreign language.

    @Marie-Lucie re translation: well, maybe bad translation is a way to borrow grammar! (By the way, I boo bad translation too, at least when people whose job has quite much to do with language and writing like journalists translate to their own language. But, because it happens to me all the time (borrowing german grammatical structures into French), I can't blame anyone for doing this in any context where they have no expectations about their speech.)

    Because nobody noticed it, I have to mention it: in the quotation from Laurent Sagalovitsch, there appears a quite sensational borrowing: the borrowing of a grammatical word, the definite article "the" (pronounced [zø] in French): "The compil."
    I just love it, and this instance is not isolated at all. It basically means "the best one", "the one to have" etc. Here maybe "the final/ultimate compilation". It is stressable, and I would claim it has to be stressed/get a focal accent.

    Just to mention another grammatical borrowing that looks quite striking too: A few nouns, mostly themselves borrowed from English (or influenced by their looking alike English counterparts), have got the possibility to construct compounds in the English form, that is N2N1, where French has N1 prep N2, like the following.

    une attitude de surfeur –> une/la surfeur-attitude ([sœʁfœʁatityd])

    I can't tell how spread it is, but the noun attitude definitely has this possibility on a productive basis (that is, with any noun as N2).

    And, like for the, which of course doesn't exactly translate the English word, this new grammatical pattern doesn't exactly work like the English compounding: (correct me if I'm wrong) the surfer-attitude sounds strange, while the attitude of a surfer or maybe a surfer's attitude are quite better, so that English and French have different constraints on this structure.

    Maybe this shows how active borrowing is (at least can be), and how much it depends on the speakers' appropriation of the language material they reshape (from scratch?).

    Of course the Académie Française (this sentence is being a attempt to bring this comment a bit more on-topic), a bunch of anything but linguists, have no clue how to realize all that depends on the speakers' (active but mostly unconscious) abilities, which abilities always end up triggering my admiration. The AF therefore (and maybe as a postulate) always turns its view so that the speakers end up being the incompetent ones in the story.

  77. marie-lucie said,

    October 25, 2011 @ 1:21 pm


    You are right that "bad translation is a way to borrow grammar", but people whose job is to write should be able to distinguish borrowed grammar from their own inherited one. Such things as you and I describe have been creeping up in the language for decades, and having lost touch for many years myself, I find the new developments shocking as I encounter them all at once instead of gradually over time. Meanwhile, some features of inherited grammar are lost if they don't have equivalents in the borrowed one (as in the difference between j'étais and j'ai été I mentioned above, one of many more instances).

    Another language, only partially known, always has a touch of mystery. Someone commented above that some things sound better in French, but many French people apparently think that some things sound better in English. For instance, not too long ago I read (in French) a quote from an interview with a young Frenchman about popular songs: he thought that Here comes the sun was "génial", while Voici le soleil was "nul". I bet that some English speakers would find Voici le soleil awesome, and Here comes the sun dorky.

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