UK bans the French terms “Cul-de-sac” and “Ménage-a-trois” in response to France’s ban on “hashtag”

Frère Jack draws up a list of French words that he wants to ban in English…

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OK, the headline isn’t quite true, but France is banning the English word hashtag. C’est vrai! Schools and media channels in France have been handed a 65-page document listing English words that they want to ban in order to protect the French language. Can you believe French tax payers are cool with paying people to come up with shit like this?

Alongside hashtag, other English words on the black list include blog, take-away and supermodel.

France are so big on their fashion, I’m amazed there isn’t a decent French alternative for supermodel?! There’s the word mannequin which means a model. But you need a way of differentiating this:

mannequin

From this:

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The word you’re looking for is SUPERMODEL!

As for blog, it’s an abbreviation of web log, so technically English, but I would say blog is more of a global word? It’s certainly more American English than British English.

And while France are getting stressed about the word take-away, over here we have our own battle to fight with America where they say “carry-out” which is even worse. An ugly phrase that will hopefully never cross the Atlantic, Justin Timberlake even had a song called Carry Out:

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It featured the rather poetic lyric “Take my order ‘cause your body like a carry out” [sic].

But that’s where the French phrase plat à emporter fails. Because plat à emporter only describes the tray of food – not the tacky building with neon lights that Timberlake is comparing his lucky lover to. Meanwhile take-away and carry-out are multipurpose words. You can say “There’s a take-away on the next street that opens late”. Without take-away what will France say instead? You can’t call Chicken Cottage a restaurant!

But if France wants to ban English words, then two can play that game. Here in England day-to-day conversation is full of borrowed French words and nobody notices or even gives a shit. When it comes to food and sex in particular – lots of French words start appearing in English.

Personally, I think French is a beautiful language and I love how it features so frequently in English.

However, just for fun, I’ve drawn up my own black list of 10 French words that are used in everyday English, and I’ve invented where necessary a potential English replacement:

1. Ménage-a-trois

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The term literally means “household of three” and so isn’t a hugely accurate way of depicting a threesome, which in the gay community quite often occurs outside of the household. In my own short life of Ménage-a-trois days I’ve seen an alleyway, a fallen tree, a children’s climbing frame, a beach, a car park and a fire exit. You can menage it up anywhere. But by its haughty French nature the term Ménage-a-trois alludes incorrectly to romantic images of svelte silk-laden bodies warmly entwining in a four-poster bed. The reality though is more often a man on a coffee table with something in each end and so, Threesome is better. Even the French have sacked off using Ménage-a-trois in favour of plan-a-trois.

Did I just use the word svelte? Another French infiltrator!

2. Aperitif

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A small alcoholic drink to “stimulate the appetite”, aperitif is a posh word to mark what is essentially a gesture between a group of hardened drinkers who want to start knocking the alcohol back before they’ve even been handed the menus. In the gay community aperitif roughly translates as “Fuck this, we’ve all got good jobs, not a child to look after in sight, now let’s get fucking smashed”. Not to stereotype gay men as being gainfully employed childless devoted drinkers. Some of us don’t work. I think the word aperitif sounds far too delicate and indecisive for what is essentially affluent liver bashing. The English equivalent? A pre-dinner drink I suppose. But that’s a bit long-winded. Maybe a prelude? An overture? Damn, they’re French too.

3. Cul-de-sac

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The phrase cul-de-sac describes a dead-end street that is usually adorned by a ring of terrifyingly bland houses with hatchbacks parked in front of drawn magnolia curtains. The literal translation is quite fitting – “Arse of bag”. There’s no English equivalent, even though England has thousands of cul-de-sacs, and yet I’ve never seen one in France. They probably do have cul-de-sacs in France, I just haven’t slept with a French guy who lives in one yet.

In fact, do any gay people live in cul-de-sacs? Anywhere? I reckon probably not. Think about it – if you were born gay in a cul-de-sac what would you do? Probably leave the cul-de-sac at the first given oppurtunity and then never mention it again. So let’s just ban the phrase altogether and the apathetic voyeurs who live in cul-de-sacs, whoever they are, are probably quite content playing out their days without a specific term to describe the lonely phenomena that is their lives.

4. Papier mâche

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You don’t have to be a linguist to work out that the English equivalent of Papier mâche is mashed paper. Why we’ve been using such a pretentious loan-word for a messy art form that is pursued almost exclusively by toddlers and gay pride float committees I don’t know. Possibly because it adds a touch of glamour and dignity to a process that is essentially embarrassing, cold, wet, rubbish and a waste of everyone’s time.

5. Soirée

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A soirée refers to an evening of hosted socialising, usually indoors, and preferably featuring large dangly earrings, polite laughter and clinking wine glasses. However, the definition has changed over time and now a soirée could be anything from a group session of watching X-Factor with a bottle of horrible, horrible, rosé to watching your glum friend eat a ready meal in their Kennington bedsit. Soirées have gone downhill. I think night in, describes contemporary soirées better. Oh shit, did I just use the French word rosé back there? Fuck, and there’s no English equivalent. The word literally means pink! I suppose we could call is rosey but people might look at you like you were a bit weird. I dare you to order a “glass of rosey please”. Go onnn…

6. Carte Blanche

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I couldn’t think of an equivalent for Carte Blanche, so I asked Twitter and Hugh Wright came up with the amazing idea of Blanche Card instead because, in his words, “Blanche in Golden Girls always did whatever the hell she wanted”. So for example you could say “I’m loving my job right now, I’ve been given the Blanche card to do whatever I want”. Not a phrase you’ll hear many English journalists saying. Carte Blanche refers to a situation in which someone has enviable levels of flexibility to do as they wish. I think we adopted the French phrase because it carries a certain frisson with it that “blank page” doesn’t offer.

Did I just say frisson? Another word that the French have thrust upon us.

7. Déjà vu

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One of the most common French words to appear in English, Déjà vu doesn’t actually mean the same thing in France. It translates as “Already seen” and can be appropriated to all sorts of literal and figurative scenarios. I think a better phrase could be “Beyon Cé”, because Beyoncé of course had a song called Déjà Vu in which she completely misunderstood what Déjà vu is. She sings “Everything I see is you, baby I swear its Déjà vu”. No Beyoncé, that isn’t Déjà vu. That’s just your neurosis.

Talking of Beyoncé – is her name French? Perhaps we should ban that too and re-title her as Beth or Amy or something. ALSO. Whenever I type French words that carry accents like frère without an accent, my computer doesn’t correct me. But when I type “Beyonce”, my computer goes ape shit trying to add the accent. That’s Apple for you. Or Pomme – as you probably now call them? iPomme. Lol.

8. Avant-garde

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A weird term that means something is forward-thinking or displays artistic innovation. Yet avant-garde as a compound word sounds quite slow and loungey I think. Wouldn’t something like Superhyper or Megafuture or Zoosh-Zoosh be better? I’ve just made all of those up so don’t use them when you’re in England. But like most art terms, nobody is quite sure when to call something avant-garde. What is the definition of “modern” ? What is “art” ? Fallen asleep yet? I have.

9. Vol-Au-Vent

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Now vol-au-vent is a dangerous phrase, it’s impossible to say it in England without making someone smirk and go “Ooh!” while moving their hips a bit. That’s because deep down inside, we all know that vol-au-vents are a little bit shit and that they’ve been surviving on the false credentials of their lofty French name for decades. Rather than find a fitting replacement for the unique term, we could maybe go one step further and…

simply erase vol-au-vents from the canon of canapés!

Everyone would be a lot happier. I mean, what even are vol-au-vents? They’re just underachieving pieces of sausage roll that don’t even contain sausage. They’re so offensive. So let’s just ban vol-au-vents altogether, and they could possibly build a statue to commemorate them in the outskirts of Toulouse. A giant granite monolith to mourn thinly-pastried failure.

Oh shit, did I use the word canapés in that paragraph? Sorry, I meant to say nibbles. Canapés is so established in England now that we can spell it without the accent. Look: Canapes. And Microsoft Word has no problems. Does that make you flinch a bit? Moi aussi.

10. Touché

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A fencing term which is said when somebody comes up with a quip or retort in conversation that exhibits a mildly impressive superiority. The problem with touché though is that it’s a gentle word, and sometimes the scenario requires a celebratory word that is a bit stronger in flavour. I’ve invented a better word: “Tuteef!” It stems from T.T.Y.F.F, which stands for “Take that you fucking FUCK!” What do you think?

Tuteef!

No. Touché is definitely better. It has more aplomb.

And that’s the end of my list!

Surely the real reason the French uses English words like supermodel and weekend is because they work well? And for the same reasons we use so many French words. Can’t we all share and embrace languages like intelligent, reasonable adults instead of being icky and possessive over them? I think borrowing words from other countries is a way to enjoy, enlighten and lightly educated yourself.

Do you agree? Or should English words be eradicated from France?

Leave a comment below, or find me on Twitter @jackcullenuk

Vive la langue!

7 commentaires

LOL!!!

Écrit par Louis le 28 janvier 2013 à 13:59

In France we have two words for “model”:
-modèle
-mannequin

The first one is very close to the English “model”, while the second one is much more restrictive and only applies to models who are good enough for fashion editorial, fashion week runways…

So the distinction between a “commercial model” and a “high fashion model” already exists in French.

The “supermodel” is something else though. It’s just a fashion model (in the “mannequin” sense) who achieved amazing success, it doesn’t have to do with their “quality” as a model.

Écrit par b_z le 28 janvier 2013 à 14:42

I’m trying to explain why some English words are a problem for some French – and, really, only a few people actually care, most of them are mocking the “official French words” which are suggested to replace the English ones.
As far as I am concerned, even if I will keep using the word hashtag the same way I’m still using the word “email”, I do think we need to be cautious about which words we take in and which words we need to create ourselves. I speak English and French, and I do enjoy the differences between the two languages and the two cultures. And, actually, the cultures and languages are very related, that’s why we do not always have accurate translations for things that exist in both cultures : in fact, a same “reality” is sometimes interpreted in a different way in both cultures, so the words we use do not have a matching meaning. That’s why countries which have a different language and culture don’t have the same way to love, to make a relationship evolve, to break up with someone, to have sex, to react, to think, to protest, to have fun, etc. And sometimes when I’m talking to my French friends, there are a few things that I “think” in English and I cannot translate it in French properly, and it’s only when I am with other friends who speak both languages that I can tell them what I mean, and then they agree that it does not translate. I mean, we have “equivalents” but they are not EXACT translations, so some nuances are lost.
The thing is, the few French people who still enjoy their language want to protect it from being “stopped” by the English language in particular, because it is considered as THE international language. So, in France, we don’t have anything against the idea of using “old” English or American words when it relates to something which is accurately English or American – on a cultural level or strictly speaking. Hence, a “pudding” cannot translate in French, and we use words like “gentleman”, “hippie”, “piercing”, “surf”, “thriller”, “jazz”, etc. What some French people try to avoid – and there is no actual way to manage it, even if something is theoretically “banned” no one will stop using the English words – is simply the fact that France automatically use the English words for the new inventions or the new words that appear in the language. If we do that all the time, the language is going to stop evolving, there won’t be new French words anymore. This is why some people try to create new words for the new trends, new technologies, new social theories. I used to teach French in the UK and it is very funny to see how many expressions are being taught at school that are technically French but that we don’t use at all, and these expressions became, in a way, more English than French because only the American or the British would say that – for example “Comme-ci, comme-ça”, “touché”, “je ne sais quoi” (which is never used except in literature, poems, songs). And, as you can see, all the words you mentioned which exist in the English language and French are quite old, so the situation is not the same as what worries some old French rats in the case of “hashtag”, the French words that you use in English are not “preventing” the creation of new English words, they refer to things which are related to the French culture or which are actually French – except for “touché” which is an expression we don’t really use anymore, and might just be used in English because it sounds French, the same way we say “cool” or “okay”, and “papier mâché” as it’s an Eastern technique, but I think it reached France at the end of the 17th century, a little bit earlier than it reached England and Germany. Not sure, really.
But the terms “apéritif, “ménage-à-trois” and “soirée” actually describe the French culture.
“Apéritif” is, as you said, close to pre-dinner drink, but it does not correspond to any cultural reality in the UK whereas it is something we do very frequently. It’s nothing like a habit either. When you haven’t seen friends for a while, you could invite them to come to your place for an “apéritif” and they would leave before dinner time. It’s a different way of meeting our friends, also we do meet in restaurants much more frequently than you would do it in the UK – I mean, you meet your friends in a restaurant, you talk for two hours, then everybody leaves, and everyone goes back to their home. In the meantime, you have much more “parties” and “nights out” than us, and it’s much more frequent in the UK to invite people to come at yours for a drink after dinner than it is in France. So apéritif is actually a “quick drink” – it often comes with appetizers like peanuts, petits fours, pickles, and “appetizers” etc. – to socialize, we tend to do it when we want to meet someone without having to spend the whole night with them – so it’s for people who are boring, tired or simply very busy, that’s something I would do when I don’t have time to go out, or when someone comes to see me randomly and I was not expecting him, then I would say “Please stay a little bit. At least, stay for the apéritif”. The drinks we would have for “apéritif” are quite different from what we have during a meal or when we go out. For an apéritif, you cannot – I mean, you “can” but it’s not what most people do – have a beer or a vodka, or shots. You can have champagne, maybe wine even if it’s not that usual, or pastis, campari… drinks that we call “appetizer drinks”. These are drinks “made” for aperitif (kind of). I’m not sure that makes sense, sorry if it doesn’t.
A “ménage-à-trois” is sometimes used to mean “threesome” but that’s actually a mistake – which was made in a few songs, and now everyone thinks that’s a threesome. It actually means that three persons live together (so, generally, they would be in love) and have sex. It does involve feelings, passion, etc. “Plan à trois” is the word that means threesome – only sex. So I think the word is French because it does happen relatively frequently in France – it’s not a habit but you can see it a lot in french films, especially in gay films, and it does happen in real life even though it does not last longer than several months or a year in most cases – and, as I can assume after having lived four years in Bristol, maybe it is not that frequent in the UK (do tell me if I’m wrong). I do have the feeling that, on average, feelings and romance – which lead to depression – are slightly more important in France that they are in the UK, the same way sex is often considered as “fun” in the UK when it’s quite “serious” in France – don’t get me wrong, it really depends on people, but I mean, from a cultural perspective. For example, if you listen to pop music, sex and relationships are not exactly described in the same way. Anyway, I do know people who actually had “ménage-à-trois” and each time it was because they were very emotional and kind of having feelings AND an intellectual connection with the two other persons so they decided to make the best out of the situation and live together till their story would come to an end.
“Soirée” is also something which I perceive as being “French”. The best translation must be a “night in” as it refers to someone hosting several friends at his/her place. It’s often a night when everyone stands and talks. When people just watch film they call it a film night (soirée films), you can have board games nights, etc… A soirée does imply it is “relatively” quiet – till the point when people start debating about politics and have an argument, or when your drunk boyfriend says something very harsh to the girl that was just dumped, and then it brings some “drama” to the “soirée” but that’s quite a good thing). If it’s just music and people drinking, shouting, dancing, we would just call it a “party” (une fête) and if it’s just two or three people being invited at yours to watch a film we don’t call it a “soirée”, actually we don’t call that anything. Just “someone coming to mine for a film” or maybe a “petite soirée”, I don’t really know. What I mean is that, basically, a “soirée” is a type of “night in” that people would have very frequently in Paris for example – you would say “I hate parisian soirées, they are so pompous” – and the main aim of a “soirée” is to socialise and talk rather than “have fun”. Then, in real life, a lot of people would call “soirée” a night when people just smoke, drink, laugh. But it’s still different from a “party” and a “film night”.
“Cul-de-sac” makes sense to us but we do not use this word very often. Although we do have them in France, we call them “voies sans issue” (roads with no way out) or “impasses” (dead ends). “Cul” does translate by “arse” in most cases, the reason why we call an “arse” that way is because this is a very old word for “bottom”. For example, the “bottom of a bottle” is a “cul de bouteille”. So in this context, cul-de-sac means “end/bottom of the bag”.

I think “hashtag” should not disappear at all as it comes from Twitter, which is American, and it is not related at all to the French “culture” – although Twitter is very successful especially in Paris among artists, people working in design, media, politics, etc. and it’s becoming quite big as it’s a trendy way to swipe articles. As for “supermodel”, I have never used that word personally. I use the word “mannequin” to refer to all kind of models – then I differentiate the kind of work they do by saying “shoe model”, “catalogue model”, etc. Whether they are very famous or not, then, is not really relevant to me, as the job is the same. So if I want to insist on the fact they are famous I would say “the famous singer, the famous model, the famous actress”. I mean, if they are very famous, everybody knows them already so there is no need to mention their fame. So, the word “supermodel” does not really represent the French culture as I think “fame” is not always perceived as “quality” by the elites, so the language deliberately tries not to put the emphasis on it. To me, Kate Moss is more famous than a “model” working for a random advert, but it does not make her “super” or superior, so I really don’t mind referring to all models with the same word, and then use an extra word – i.e. “famous” – to emphasize their fame if it is relevant to the context. I mean, people don’t do this with all the professions, do they ? You don’t say “superteacher”, “superwriter”, “supermusician”, “supersinger”. So, in a nutshell, I think the word “supermodel” should not be “banned” but, actually, we have no use for it as it does not correspond to the way French people refer to celebrities.
Concerning the word “take-away”, I think it is perfectly normal to use this word to refer to places which sell take-away food only, the same way we use “fast-food” to refer to places like McDonalds, etc. because these are imported from the American culture. So a take-away restaurant should be called a take-away in French. But as for the food itself, I think “plat à emporter” is more accurate as this has always existed in French markets or in restaurants which offer a take-away option instead of actually being take-away restaurants. That’s quite debatable and I’m being very picky here, I know.
“Weekends” actually come from the industrial revolution – Jewish workers asked for their Saturdays off instead of Sundays, then employers reckoned it was more practical and “profitable” to give the two days off to everybody as it made people more efficient the rest of the time and they did not have to create special shifts with some people working on Saturdays and others on Sundays. So the concept is actually related to the English language.

Some people also explain that they do not reject foreign words when they refer to something that does not correspond to anything in France, but that when we could have another way to say something and make it understandable by anyone even if they don’t know the word, we should do it. Because that’s how a language works. For example, when take-away restaurants were invented, even someone aged 70 would understand what the word referred to, because it was a “transparent” word for someone who could speak English. It’s the same for words like “brainstorming” or “hashtag”. The problem is, in France, people who are “old” or do not speak English do not know the meaning of “brain”, “storm”, “hash”, “tag”, “take” and “away” so there is no way they can get a sense of what these words mean without reading about it somewhere. So, “pudding” does not matter to the French because it is English, the same way we have “doughnuts” as they are american. And when words are “old” and we are culturally used to it, which is the case of “weekend” (or week-end”) and “chewing-gum” then everyone knows what it refers to. The same way that most Americans and most British people understand what a “rendezvous” is. Just imagine if recent words that could be easily created in English were kept in their foreign “format”. For example, if take-away restaurants had just been invented, and if there were a French invention, the word we would use would be “Restaurant de plats à emporter”. No one in the UK would understand what it refers to if they don’t speak French, because they would not know what “plat” (meal, dish) or “emporter” (take away) mean. The only people who would understand the word would be the teenagers and workers because they would have seen these restaurants. But the elderly and people who don’t go out would not necessarily know. And it’s not like there are only a few words appearing each year. A lot of “novelties” have an English name, even when they come from countries who do not “speak” English as it’s better to sell a product or to spread an idea worldwide. Thus, a play/station, a smart/phone, a blue/ray, face/book, tags , online and smileys do not “mean” would do not mean anything to some people in France, whereas they are used everywhere. That’s unfair for people like my grandmother who are trying hard to use new technologies and stay in touch with the “modern world” (even though that’s a good thing for the young generations who want to learn English).
That’s part of why some people want to create some French words when we can, it’s mostly to keep the language alive and connect with the people by making the words transparent rather than to “block” foreign words.

Well, sorry for this looooong comment. But I liked you article a lot and then I got carried away.

Écrit par @lesmotsdits le 28 janvier 2013 à 18:58

I actually live in a cul-de-sac and…I am gay ;-)

Écrit par Rafael le 28 janvier 2013 à 20:35

Thank you for your comments, Frère Jack here. I’ve had a few glasses of red wine, so will read them properly tomorrow. Beyond the jokes I think this is a really interesting issue too. I think the British media interpret the story as France attacking English people and their language – but actually the situation is one that concerns the French alone, and the fact that they choose to use English words. Lots of love. J x

Écrit par jack le 28 janvier 2013 à 21:18

Hi Jérémie! I’ve had time to read your comments properly, thank you for taking so much time to explain some of the history behind the words.

I think with supermodel it is necessary to have that word, especially in certain industries. If I say that Naomi Campbell is a supermodel, it doesn’t express any view of mine on how good a model she is, it simply states that she is in a category above other models in terms of how much money her agency can charge and it indicates that she’ll probably only lend her face to big campaigns with big brands.

With take-away, it’s interesting you see it as such an American thing. In London most take-aways are middle eastern, eastern european or asian. But I understand your point. However, even if France did invent the take-away then I doubt “Restaurant de plats à emporter” would have taken off – it’s far too long! You would probably have made up a word like “restaport” or something. In Brussels there’s a great take-away that my friend visits called Resto Presto, which is Italian but a clever name!

Écrit par jack le 29 janvier 2013 à 21:27

I don’t think we (French people) use the “supermodel” word. For instance, in google.fr “supermodel” gives results in English mostly. The word “Top model” is much more frequent here (but probably old fashnioned now)

Écrit par Eric le 5 février 2013 à 16:45

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