In French print media, Anglicisms are 'le buzz'

Despite long being a bastion against foreign imports into the French language, French newspapers and magazines are undergoing 'un boom' in the use of Anglicisms.

By , Contributor

“Etes-vous un trader, une working girl successful, ou un web marketeur? Aimez-vous la Caesar salad, le fudge, et les grogs healthy?"

It's not quite the French you learned at school, but more and more you'll find such Anglicisms in France's print media – despite its reputation of being more linguistically conservative than radio, TV, or the web.

An increasing number of English words are being used publicly despite the best efforts of the Académie française. Since the institution started working on its latest dictionary in 1986, with words like jogging, blue-jean, or ketchup becoming kosher, the French media has incorporated many more English words and la deep ecology, le it-bag, and le buzz now feature on magazine covers.

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One of the reasons for this increase is access to the US way of life through the Internet by journalists who either don't find a proper translation or deliberately use the original as it sounds plus in, for instance westernization rather than occidentalisation. Until recently, garçon manqué would have been preferred to tomboy.

Historically, the French have put up resistance to Anglicisms, mainly through the Académie, set up in the 17th century by Richelieu, officially to help the French language cover the worlds of arts and science. But the rise of the Internet has submerged the Académie and rendered it powerless before this linguistic tsunami.

New information technology has brought along verbs such as podcasté, chatté, or tweaté. Designers have caught on the trend and websites created with French-language users in mind bear names such as free.fr, while young Christians are lured onto zebible.com.

A new wor(l)d

Business journalese is not immune: le big boss goes to un power breakfast for un brainstorming before un debriefing. People work in un open space, make des passion investments, and bow out because of le burnout – all a legacy of the jargon of US psycho-sociology used by human resource departments (le service du personnel itself has been replaced by les Ressources Humaines). Words have come up in news pages like best selleuse, killeuse, and DJette.

The entry on Anglicisms in the French version of Wikipedia is illustrated by examples from the news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur such as playmate, fitness, or shopping. French façon is passé: Un catwalk with des top models is the accepted jargon during une fashion week. French journalists may also have found it awkward to render concepts such as goodies, total look, or must have. And how do you translate bootylicious? Fashionese doesn't.

The art of seduction itself has become anglicized. There was a time when un séducteur was described by the Gallic media as un casanova or un don juan. Today, he is called un womanizer – a wholesale import from across the pond.

Even a bastion such as cuisine is crumbling. TV programs like Masterchef  and Le Top Chef are on en prime time. Le fooding (a contraction of food and feeling), le slow food, and la junk food are in. Outside the US, France has the largest number of McDonald restaurants per capita and two fast food chains called Flunch (from fast and lunch) and Quick were set up to compete with the global giant. Berries which the French had been calling des canneberges for centuries have reappeared as... des cranberries.

Lifestyle and politics sometimes overlap, never more so than when it comes to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, forever associated with le bling-bling. Political journalists have been at it too (le gerrymandering, le spin doctor, la procédure d'impeachment) and politicians themselves are keeping up: When François Hollande was selected to run for the presidency, he told a melee of hacks: "La campagne sera hard."

Bastions against the flood

Even though Anglicisms are becoming more widespread, some publications are still standing strong against them.

At the daily Le Monde, Chief Corrector Lucien Jedwab says that received sports terms such as jumping, putt, or green are used like any other word whereas those that flood the news overnight like junk bonds or sub primes are “put in purgatory,” i.e., in italics, until they disappear from the news or become a constant feature. When there is a choice between a ubiquitous Anglicism (such as email) or a French equivalent (courriel), they go for the latter, earning praise from the Académie française. Some readers write in every time an English word is printed. Mr. Jedwab has received 250 letters from a particularly irate man. Jedwab does describe the policy of his younger colleagues at lemonde.fr as “more lax,” though.

In contrast, not a single Anglicism can be found in Le Magazine Littéraire. Editor Laurent Nunez says that, because they write about literature, they must choose their words carefully and beware of journalese, including Anglicisms. As for the Académie's recommendations – it has periodically offered up "official" changes to refine and protect the language over the decades – he says "nobody takes any notice of them. The spelling reform, for example, is not being heeded, although it only dates back to 1991."

The dozen intellectuals who make up la Commission du Dictionnaire at the Académie française are not expected to finalize their latest offering until 2020 or so. They have so far included 84 English words. Spanish comes second with 20 entries and Arabic third with 19 words. Chinese is in tenth position, but if China's economic rise translates into cultural supremacy, as was the case with the US last century, Chinese imports into French may well go beyond ginseng, litchi, and kung fu.

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