The words that defined 2019 in France

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The words that defined 2019 in France
A certain yellow item of clothing is one of the words that defined the year. Photo: AFP

So 2019 has been a big year for news in France, but now two French authors have published a collection of words that they feel define the last 12 months. Here are some of them.


French authors Delphine Jouenne and Amélie Chabrol have published Un bien grand mot which analyses some of the terms that cropped up most in news reports over the year.

Here's a look at some of the words they included:

The majority of 'yellow vest' protesters were peaceful, but there were also scenes like this. Photo: AFP

Gilet jaune - yellow vest

Of course it had to include the most high profile protest movement of the year, possibly the decade. The 'yellow vest' protests actually began at the end of 2018, but continued weekly throughout 2019, albeit with much reduced numbers since the summer.

The phrase gilet jaune of course already existed in French - referring to the high-vest vest that drivers are required by law to carry - but 2019 was the year it came to mean a protest or protester. Newspapers now regularly use 'yellow vest march' 'yellow vest violence' or 'yellow vest leaders' to refer exclusively to the protest movement of people who feel marginalised and forgotten by the French government.

Identifying clothing with protest movements has a long history in France, from the sans-Culottes of the French revolution to the Bonnets rouges of the 2013 fuel tax protests.

Acte - act

Also included in the book were several 'yellow vest' related words, including acte. A word that again already existed in French, it was co-opted by the 'yellow vest' movement and has come to mean the latest round of yellow vest protests, so news sites will regularly refer to 'Acte 53: En détail', which is widely understood to be relate to details of the 53rd week of 'yellow vest' protests.

In this banner, protesters declare that the French government are the real hooligans. Photo: AFP

Casseur - rioter or hooligan

Not a new concept, but one that has also come to have an association with the 'yellow vests' is the people who go on demos with the express purpose of causing trouble. Casseur literally translates as 'breaker' and if you've seen news footage of masked people smashing up bus stations and setting fire to street furniture, they are casseurs. Also referred to as Black Bloc - the more organised type of hooligan - they sadly tend to dominate the news coverage at the expense of the many thousands of peaceful protesters, whether they are 'yellow vests' or strikers.

Feminicide - the murder of a woman, usually by her partner or former partner

Not a new problem and sadly not specific to France, but 2019 was the year that the shockingly high rate of domestic violence related killings in France really hit the headlines.

Feminist groups began staging protests across the country, drawing attention to the hundreds of women killed every year in France by current or former partners. The government launched a consultation exercise and a package of measures aimed at tackling the problem is currently making its way through the French parliament.


Empreinte - footprint

Originally used to refer to printing, this now means a virtual footprint. So you can have empreinte carbone - carbon footprint - empreinte écologique - eco footprint - or empreinte numérique - digital footprint.

The banner declares a 'climate emergency'. Photo: AFP

La crise écologique - the climate crisis

Also on an environmental note, this phrase has become a lot more widespread in 2019. Changement climatique - climate change - is still used but with a greater sense of urgency to the problem, the French parliament, as well as several local authorities, declared urgence climatique - climate emergency - this year.

Trottinettes - scooters

These have been on the roads in France for several years, but reached something of a crisis point in 2019, particularly in Paris, earning themselves many column inches in the newspapers and an entry in the book.

Originally marketed as a bit of a plaything, trottinettes électrique (electric scooters, often referred to simply as trotinettes) were then pushed as a transport alternative for big cities like Paris, where dozens of different operators began offering dockless scooter hire.

This brought with it a host of problems, including people riding them at speed on the pavement, abandoning them on the road or in parking spaces or simply flinging them into the nearest river. Over 2019 cities like Paris and Marseille lost patience, bringing in new restrictions on scooter riders and operators.

The French government then added trottinettes to the Highway Code, meaning users are now covered by the rules of the road, bringing to end the free-for-all year of the scooter.

Electric scooters are a common sight in France's bigger cities. Photo: AFP

The book's authors see a common theme emerging from some of the most-used words of 2019.

As they told French newspaper Le Figaro: "Lack of sincerity, search for transparency, lack of trust, the year 2019 seems to be turning into a year full of pretences.

"The words reflect the movement driven by citizens wishing in turn to create new conditions for their future (debate, action) while returning to the fundamentals."



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