France celebrates ten ‘foreign’ French words

To commemorate French Language Week France's Education Ministry has published a list of ten foreign words that have been adopted into French in a bid to show the language's adaptability and openness to foreign influence.

France celebrates ten 'foreign' French words
The French language is expanding, no matter how slowly. Photo: French phrase book/Flickr
France's Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin told The Local last week that France was ready to end its longstanding resistance to the steady influx of English words into the French language. 
Her comments made headlines the world over, as France's legendary tough stance of defending its language against English appeared to be finally easing. 
And to make a point about how open la langue française is to words from other languages the Education Ministry has teamed up with the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) to shine the spotlight on ten foreign words to celebrate the French language and its welcoming capacity to take on new words.
The organization released the list together with separate two-minute videos overflowing with graphics about each word to help readers understand (we've included one below – click here for all the videos).
Here are the ten words, together with their country of origin and their meaning. 
This Arab word roughly means a mixture or blend (spelled amalgam in English). The OIF organization said that the three As and the two Ms make anyone pronouncing this word sound a bit like they're chewing something. Ammm, ammm, amm. Say it out loud and you'll get it. 
Over to Italy for the second word, which is no doubt one you're familiar with – it means "well done!" and is usually used as an exclamation. 
This word first graced the French language in the seventies and stems from the Swiss-German language. It means "target", apparently often used in the context of advertising jargon. 
A grigri is a pendant or charm that is typically worn close to the body. The OIF noted that the two Rs in the word lend it a pleasant sound in the French language, adding that the word originally comes from French-speaking countries in Africa. 

Grigri ou Gris-gris – Dis-moi dix mots 2014-2015 par culture-gouv

From the Inuit people of the far north, this word means "human" or "man". The OIF noted that this word was particularly important because it replaced the word "Eskimo" – words which are often incorrectly used interchangeably.
Kermesse, a Dutch word, is another example of something that's been picked up in both the English and French language. It means a kind of festival celebration in honour of the church.
You can thank the Germans for this word, which exists in English too, and means something that's considered to be of poor taste, but often in an ironic way.
Here's the "English word" – a nod to the word serendipity which means a pleasant surprise. While this word has been kicking around in English for hundreds of years, it stems from the word Serendip, the old name for Sri Lanka. Note that Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin told The Local that this was indeed her favourite English word.
No, no, no, this isn't referring to the popular online encyclopedia. The word wiki comes from Hawaii and simply means "quick". Legend has it that the man who created the original Wiki website was inspired after taking a "wiki wiki shuttle" in Hawaii.  
This word comes from the Japanese religion of Zen buddhism. The word "zen" was brought to France in the sixties or seventies, and was eventually given the suffix of -itude to become a word describing a way of life.  
French Language week runs until the 22nd of March. The week features International Francophonie Day on the 20th. 

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.