French Linguists Rewrite the Internet Dictionary

As a European, one can't help feeling sympathy for the Académie Française, whose latest initiative is to find pure French equivalents for Internet terminology. Reacting against the linguistic equivalents of Coke and Macdonalds, the Académie is trying to create a whole new French vocabulary to take the place of "le web", "le chat" and "le freeware", all of which are in common use.

The Académie has enlisted the help of the Office de la Langue Française (OLF) in Quebec. The assumption that France and Quebec share a common literary culture can be dangerous, as Amazon.fr recently found out when it had a Canadian library information service furnish synopses for its Bandes Dessinies and ended up describing its own stock as "perfectly disgusting".

This time, however, the results look more encouraging. Opinion is divided as to whether "chatroom" should be "bavardoir" (bavarder mean to chat) or "clavardoir", which adds the element of keyboard or clavier. And hopefully keep the chat well tempered.

"E-mail" - hitherto officially "courier ilectronique" - has been shortened to the snappier "courriel", which in turn leads to "pourriel" (pourri translates as rotten) for junk mail. A browser is "un fureteur" - something that ferrets about - and the very wonderful "escargotique" replaces "snail-mail". Garlic butter aside, the only problem with this is that "petit escargot" is already in use as the spoken form of the @ sign.

Last time something similar happened was six years ago, when the Minister of Culture, Jacques Toubon, tried to force the French press to abandon words such as "le weekend" and instead use "la vacancelle" ("little holiday"). Predictably, after a few weeks of French people waving imaginary lace handkerchiefs and giggling as they wished each other a "bonne vacancelle", "le weekend" continued undented, and the only lasting linguistic change was that M. Toubon was henceforth known as "Mister Allgood."

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