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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Covid-19 is officially feminine, say French language guardians

Scientists still don't know many things about the new Covid-19 virus but now one thing is certain - in French, the virus is feminine.

Covid-19 is officially feminine, say French language guardians
The Academie française has spoken. Photo: AFP

Covid-19 is feminine – to be used with the article “la” not “le” – according the official guardian of the French language, which has urged an end to the widespread practice in France of referring to it as masculine.

This is despite the fact that the umbrella term for the virus type – coronavirus – is masculine in French.

“The use of the feminine for Covid-19 would be preferable,” the Academie Francaise said in a directive published on its website under the category “faulty use”.

READ ALSO The 22 French words we've learned during lockdown

“It is perhaps not too late to give this acronym back the gender it should have.”

The academy deplored the use of the masculine “le Covid-19” in the media and general conversation in France, saying the disease had wrongly been attributed the same gender as the germ that causes it: “le” coronavirus.

It explained that Covid was an acronym for coronavirus disease, and that in French, the core word in an acronym is what gives it its gender. In this case, disease, which is a feminine “la maladie” in the language of Moliere.

The World Health Organisation has long referred to COVID-19 as “la”, and in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, government websites and the media use the feminine form.

The “Office quebecois de la langue francaise” also recommends its feminine use, and the Royal Spanish Academy has issued similar guidance, citing the same grammar rationale.

The members of the French academy are mostly elderly men who wear an ornate uniform and a sword and are known as the immortals.

Only last year did the notoriously conservative academy open the door to feminine versions of professions such as doctor and teacher.
 

Member comments

  1. Don’t these “people” realise that a language is a living thing and is always changing and evolving? These so called academics are holding France back internationally but at least the young are trying to change things. This academy is like Canute trying to hold back the tide of change.

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COVID-19

New Covid wave in autumn ‘virtually certain’ say French experts

The head of the government's new health advisory body says that a surge of Covid cases when the French head back to work after the summer break is virtually certain.

New Covid wave in autumn 'virtually certain' say French experts

Immunologist Brigitte Autran, president of new government health advisory body the Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires (Committee to monitor and anticipate health risks) which has replaced the Conseil scientifique, told Le Parisien that “the Covid epidemic is not behind us” and said that the French would have to get used to “living with” the virus.

The Covidtracker website currently shows that the virus is in decline across France, with the R-rate currently at 0.7 – any figure lower than one indicates that the number of infections is falling.

Autran, whose appointment as head of the new body was confirmed on Wednesday, said that the most likely scenario was for a “new epidemic peak in the autumn”, when people return to work after the summer holidays.

“Will it be due to a new variant or the return of cold weather?” she said. “We are not soothsayers, but it is almost certain that there will be a wave.”

“Today, we must go towards living with it,” she added, reintroducing the French to an expression previously used by President Emmanuel Macron and several ministers.

“This does not mean accepting the deaths or the severity of the disease,” she went on, pointing to the fact that health authorities in France still have “levers to activate” to fight the virus. 

Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent (79.6 percent) of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus, she said that, “unfortunately there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated or revaccinated.”

And she said the new body would work with the government to improve the public’s access to drugs, such as Paxlovid, and vaccines.

Vaccination is still open to anyone who has not yet had their shots, while a second booster shot is on offer to certain groups including over 60s, pregnant women, those with health conditions or people who are in close contact with vulnerable people.

EXPLAINED Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

The French government in August voted to end to State of Emergency that allowed it to impose measures like travel bans and lockdowns, although further restrictions could be put in place if cases rise again and parliament agrees. 

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