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Mind your language

What the French now mean when they say ‘bugger’

And other alarming neologisms

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

The French for tête-à-tête is one-to-one now, according to a new survey of English invaders by Alexandre des Isnards. Actually, only half of the 400 neologisms that M. Isnards has collected for his Dictionnaire du Nouveau Français (Allary Editions) are English, though that’s a high enough level.

It seems to me that French and English people are in common cause here, for it is in business-speak that the English neologisms most easily put down their nasty little suckers — an unweeded garden in both languages. Bullet-points now seem as desirable to French business people as to English. Verbs are spawned simply by sticking –er on the end of English words: forwarder, photoshoper (with a single p), rebooter. Se skyper, with a show of syntactic flair, is a reflexive verb. To English eyes, French usage can seem surreal. Bugger is one of the new words. J’ai buggé means, I think, ‘I have a computer virus’.


M. Isnards lives and breathes neologisms. He long ago witnessed French people adopting acronyms (OMG, WTF) for exclamations from a foreign tongue. Sometimes, he observes, French gets its own back by mangling the words it adopts. So la loose means something a loser experiences, and never mind the extra ‘o’. He was quick to pick up on a new expression that a young woman in the office used all the time: C’est mar. He hadn’t heard it before, he told the magazine Tranfuge, but it became clear that it meant ça suffit or basta. (Some people use basta in English, but to my ears it sounds like saying ciao — inauthentic.)

After four years of shovelling neologisms into his book, M. Isnards chooses a strange one as his favourite. It is plussoyer. The origin is the internet, where one is often invited to click little boxes, often, no doubt, to activate a herd of Trojan horses and set them galloping into one’s address book, and you are soon buggé. A parallel in English is to like by clicking the Facebook icon; in speech one has to use oral quotation marks or signify them with one’s fingers: ‘I “liked” your restaurant on the website.’ In French now, for ‘I agree’, ‘I second that’, you simply say je plussoie.


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