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A new dictionary on anglicisms

Last Updated: 6 Jan 2020

Why be interested in Anglicisms when you don't sacralize the language and try to preserve it as a museum piece. Because language is a living organ that structures our relationship to the world and which itself undergoes all the transformations and twists of the world.

Speakers will therefore seek in its own resources or in other languages the means to understand and say or write what they have to say or write.

Everything goes very fast in our world and common concepts, perhaps one per day or one per week, are hard to say.

The latest example, for us, keen as we are, of the world's current events, the outpouring of hatred on social networks (and not only) is becoming a matter of concern. So the oddball who belches and insults instead of talking, writing and reasoning (probably too reactive, conformist, petty-bourgeois, elitist, big-capitalist or whatever) must be named. As luck would have it, this noun will be "hater" (Laurent Delahousse on France 2 on December 14, with a definition), from the verb "to hate" (haïr). No doubt "hater" is universal, while "hateful", both adjective and noun (like "amoureux"), is fatally French, therefore "provincial".

Perhaps "hater" will be ephemeral and even limited to a single job. This is not certain, as this is not an isolated case.

Academicians and the Académie française are alarmed, and obviously their legitimate and common sense reaction, catches the attention for five minutes, and quickly passes for a rearguard action, even as a fight against progress and modernity, notions that in other fields pass for outdated in the name of postmodernity.

In any case, it is legitimate to be alarmed, but it is still better to try to identify the processes that lead us to this gigantic universal gibberish, so gibberish and so universal, that we will have ceased to understand each other. This is one of the interpretations of Babel. In a personal translation but validated by Arabists François Rastier quotes Sura Les appartements (verse 13) of the Koran, which says: "We have divided you into languages and nations so that you may learn from one another". Modern translation: gibberish is not an effective means of communication and exchange.

Linguists rightly remind us that languages are largely borrowed, especially French.

What holds us back is that borrowings are almost always interpreted by linguists as enrichment. And that is what we would like to verify and at the same time understand the processes of transformation. What do they consist of and what are the factors that provoke them?

In this editorial we will not be able to go very far in this research. We take only a few examples that challenge us.

The example taken at the beginning is already quite instructive, and since it is not proven to be a loan, all hypotheses are allowed.

First of all, we are dealing with a new reality that is twofold. Firstly, social networks have taken barely a few years to establish themselves in social life and profoundly transform political life. Secondly, the outpouring of hatred that we are witnessing could not occur in the same way in the traditional media. Writers and journalists could do it, but with social networks, the public voice is open to everyone at almost no cost. That said, the social network found its name without difficulty in French (and in all languages) and hate is not really a new fact. What is new is the combination of hate and the social network. So we need a new word for people who can do this. Maybe we do. It seems that in the United States someone had the idea of building "hater" from "to hate". In French, it would be hard to derive from "haïr", "haïseur" (as in "invader"), when we already have "haïssant", as we have "amant" (but not "aimant") and "haineux" (as we have "amoureux"). So there is no lack of resource and no lack of elegance (because "lover" is not quite the same as "lover" and perhaps there are also some nuances between "hater" and "hateful"). In any case, it is the use that gives meaning, and the answer to the need for a new concept can be found in a new word, as well as in a new derivative ("hate" is so far more employable as a present participle than as a noun) or more easily by giving a new use to an already existing word. The economy of language is almost always the search for simplicity and to change a lot with as little change as possible. Therefore the preference must go to the new use of an already existing word.

Of course, we have no idea what will happen to this newcomer, but let us ask ourselves why it might be that he or she will enter the French language in the form of anglicism, in preference to a solution that comes directly from what is called the genius of language, and of which French is full.

Let us first review some of the clichés that we are being watered down to the point of thirst.

English is easier, shorter, more direct.

As Claude Hagège reminds us in a recent interview, only people who don't speak it or speak it badly can come out with such nonsense. English is indeed phonetically very difficult and a very idiomatic language. It is easy to check by reading an article in Time or the Guardian. If the argument of simplicity or closeness had any credibility, the French would have long ago switched to Italian. One could qualify it as basic english or globish, but basic english is not English, it only has the appearance of it, and we are not in the context of specific uses such as writing weather reports or commentary on a football match in which one should be able to get away with 150 to 300 words.
Second argument sometimes used: the word does not exist in French (of course any reader can make the translation by taking another language, and will make the same observation). We have just seen what it is. However, the words do exist, are available to serve, but if one does not know one's own language, one may actually believe that the word or words do not exist. However, many of our French speakers lack even a basic vocabulary, which makes them prefer the word they hear without further question. There are in fact two audiences. There are people, often quite old, who are not very "connected", and, on the other hand, a younger audience, very "connected" to rudimentary French, and for whom the sprawl of everyday use of English words, or words resembling English, is a marker, not of "distinction" in Bourdieu's sense, but of a perceived "superiority", like the temperature on the weather report, and yet so "fake". In the middle and upper layers of this category, a small layer of snobbery can be added, with Anglicism appearing as a marker of culture, and the effect of mimicry of bands, groups, networks and professional teams can play to full effect. To appear "hip", sorry, "up to date" fits well in the decor. Their vision of the world is globally structured by the winds from across the Atlantic, which carries via advertising both hyperconsumerism and an Eldorado that has become for decades purely imaginary.

The double repetition effect caused by the initial message and by mimicry exerts a leverage effect on this type of audience and ensures optimal propagation of the new terms. Mimicry and distinction are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually reinforcing. Whether Claude Hagège likes it or not, there is ease and the illusion of ease. And there, the repetition of the same sounds and the same words ends up creating an impression of ease, the basis of assimilation and learning. Depending on the ideological context, this phenomenon will also be called intoxication, head stuffing, conditioning, training, watering, feeding, etc.. If we say "bottle-feeding", we introduce nuances of pleasure, irenicism and dependence at the same time, attached to early childhood, which brings us closer to our subject, because hyperdependence on communication is a characteristic of the times we live in, and it is created from a very young age.

To extend the reasoning, let us say that there is a middle effect. For repetition to have its full effect, there must be a favourable environment.

In 1928 Edward Bernays produced his famous essay Propaganda1 , Noam Chomsky's "classic textbook of the public relations industry," which "cynically and straightforwardly sets out the main principles of mass manipulation, or what Bernays called the 'factory of consent. How to impose a new brand of laundry detergent? How do you get a president elected? "2 All the techniques of totalitarian power (Gobbels drew much inspiration from it), but also from corporate communication and modern political communication are found in it. However, it is not certain that everything you need to know about public relations and marketing techniques is of great use to our subject, because these techniques are within the reach of all the powerful in this world, whether it be Trump's United States, Putin's Russia or Tsi Ji Ping's China.

We want to highlight three phenomena.

Geopolitics, which is essential, cannot be overlooked. It was not a narrow-minded anti-American who wrote that Europe is only "the bridgehead of American power and the springboard for the expansion of the world democratic system in Eurasia", it was the great expert and adviser to the President of the United States from 1977 to 1981, Zbigniew Brzezinski3. With a military budget representing 40% of world defence spending, 7 times the Russian budget and x times the Chinese budget, the situation has not changed much, if not many contextual elements. In antiquity, the Roman imperium did not prevent the Greek language from continuing to shine for centuries and being shared by the Roman elites.

Of course, there is scientific domination. But this domination is far from total. On the other hand, this domination was enough to make English the language of the scientific community. Some people claim that English is the Latin of today. This is not true, since the domination of Latin in the scholarly world for centuries did not in any way prevent the flourishing of "vulgar languages", and Descartes wrote his Discourse on the Method first in French and then disseminated it later also in Latin. Similarly, the history of the French language has never been totally linked to the political history of the French nation.

So we have to look elsewhere. There is globalization. But we still need to know what it is.

In the eighties, a wave of companies wanting to mark their international roots took English as their official language, no doubt thinking that anonymity was a good marketing idea. Some thought that the nation-state was in its twilight years, and with it democracy, seeing in the absolute market the only way to achieve the general interest (theirs). This movement was a long-lasting one. However, for companies, English is no longer the subject of debate. As soon as a company, big or small, wants to act internationally, it cannot do without English, but that is not the point. The linguistic need is not limited to English, it depends on the territories, customers and partners. The second languages (which nothing prevents them from being the first to be learned) are in ambush for the professional development and performance of the company.

Moreover, the issue is not strictly linguistic. The desired skills are also cultural. It is necessary to understand the values involved, behaviours, hierarchical relationships, negotiation, etc. And knowledge of English from this point of view is not enough.

So what is of concern is the fact that opinion lags far behind that of the companies themselves.

So we have to look in other directions.

From the middle to the reflex conditioned by the effect of technological pressure and the mastodons of mass culture, the field is wide, too wide for this modest article.

Let's take "our ten must-have series of the year 2019" published by Le Monde, and simply look at the titles: "Fleabag" (on Amazon Prime Video), "Mindhunter" (on Netflix), "The Good Fight" (on Amazon Prime Video), "Succession" (on OCS on demand), "Pose" (on Canal+ Séries), "Transparent" (on Amazon Prime Video), "Too Old to Die Young" (on Amazon Prime Video), "What We Do in the Shadows" (on Canal+), "Russian Doll" (on Netflix), "Il Miracolo" (on Arte). Look for the mistake!

Another incursion into the new world, still drawing from the newspaper Le Monde, thousands of parents shout "Help, my child is addicted to Fortnite"! »

Because the game of "battle royale" has conquered the 8-12 year olds, to the great despair of some parents, overwhelmed by these kids who won't take their hands off their controllers and scream incomprehensible things, helmets screwed on their ears. At the same time, numerous concordant scientific studies denounce the devastating effects of the small screen on the brains of young children.

Impressive, isn't it? We suggest another game: count the number of anglicisms that these video games carry.

What if a language's global vocation depended on its ability (or rather that of its speakers) to tell the world. To pose the problem in these terms is not absurd, given that it is a bit the history of Greek and Latin. One would realize that English is not alone (has it ever been?), and that there are even many candidates, with all due respect to our Panurge sheep, or our millions of lemmings fascinated by the small screen, and to our media specialists of the immediate world.

The American steamroller would look more like the pachyderm than the cheetah, unless it is the windmill. It's been a long time since the United States stopped pretending to rule the world, locked as it is in its own cultural vacuum.4

This is why we invite you to take an interest in the new dictionary of anglicisms that the OEP is implementing in collaboration with Défense de la langue française. A contribution to a better understanding and perhaps a better control of the phenomenon.


1Edward Bernays (1928), Propaganda, translated from English by Oristelle Bonis and reissued in France by Les Editions La Découverte/Zones, Paris, 2007

2Cover page of the French edition.

3Zbigniew Brzezinski (1997), The Grand Chessboard, Basicbooks, Paris, 2010

4Reread for example Les Américains, Michel Jobert, Albin Michel, 1987; Après l'Empire, Emmanuel Todd, Gallimard, 2002