French word of the Day: Zizanie

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French word of the Day: Zizanie

This activity is so French that it's been the title of both an Astérix book and a Louis de Funès film.


Why do I need to know zizanie?

It may not be a very everyday phrase but it sums up a particularly French aspect of life.

What does it mean?

It's usually translated as discord or argument but it's not just a simple exchange of views, it's more of a mass dispute or (verbal) brawl in which everyone is shouting at once.

French newspaper Libération ran a headline this week 'Ecoles la zizanie' to describe the general row that is taking place in France at present on when and how the country's schools should reopen.

In this case no-one is happy - unions say it's not safe for teachers, local officials say it's not fair that they have to make the decision, national government says that local officials asked for extra discretion, some parents are angry that schools are going back too soon while others feel it's unfair that the final choice is with the parents and not the government.

It's a general mess in which everyone is shouting and no-one is happy - la zizanie.

It's often used in political contexts when infighting has got even worse than is usual in France but it's not only for political rows.

In 1970 a book in the Astérix cartoon series was published with the title La Zizanie (perhaps deciding that this was untranslatable, publishers brought this book out in the Anglophone world with the title Astérix and the Roman Agent).


Astérix co-creator Albert Uderzo with the artwork for La Zizanie. Photo: AFP

There is also a classic 1978 film under the title of La Zizanie - featuring Louis de Funès as a man in dispute with his local préfecture, then his wife, then the entire town.

It is frequently paired with the verb semer - to sow - to mean sowing discord or driving a wedge between two people.

Aujourd'hui, certains députés ont tenté de politiser cette question et de l'utiliser pour semer la zizanie à la Chambre - Today we have seen certain MPs try to politicise this issue and use it to sow discord in the debating chamber.

Les manifestants ont résolus à semer la zizanie aujourd'hui - The protesters are determined to cause an argument today.

Il a invité cette femme à rester pour semer la zizanie entre nous - He invited that woman to stay just to drive a wedge between us.



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