Quatorzaine to glottophobie: The French words of 2020

From new coinages to obscure vocabulary that became part of the mainstream, we have all learned some new French phrases this year. Julia Webster Ayuso looks back at some which are likely to remain useful well into 2021.

Quatorzaine to glottophobie: The French words of 2020
The phrase couvre-feu hadn't been heard much in daily French chat before 2020. Photo: AFP

1. Confinement, déconfinement, reconfinement – The word for ‘lockdown’ in French and its variations have marked the different stages of pandemic in the country. Beginning with confinement, we then learned déconfinement – lifting lockdown – before unfortunately having to acquaint ourselves with reconfinement – going back into lockdown. All three of these can also be used as verbs, confiner, déconfiner and reconfiner.

2. Gestes barrières – Hygiene measures. These are the new habits we have had to get used to this year: refraining from shaking hands or doing la bise, standing at a distance, regularly washing and sanitising our hands and wearing a mask.

3. Isolement – Isolation. People testing positive for coronavirus, or travellers returning from high risk countries have had to self-isolate for 14 days. 

4. Quatorzaine – this handy little portmanteau means a 14-day quarantine, a mashup of quatorze (14) and quarantaine (quarantine). This has more recently been replaced by septaine – a 7-day quarantine.

5. Distanciel – University lectures, team meetings and family reunions were held en distenciel (remotely) throughout the year as people refrained from coming together.

6. Coronapistes – A wave of new cycle lanes emerged after the first lockdown in June to encourage city-dwellers to get on their bikes and avoid overcrowding public transport. Some streets in Paris suddenly resembled those in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The word is a blend of piste cyclabe – cycle lanes – and coronavirus.

7. Couvre-feu – The word curfew comes from the French couvre-feu (literally ‘cover the fire’, after a tradition in the Middle Ages to prevent villages burning down from unattended fireplaces). The measure, which bans anyone in a given area from exiting their homes between certain times, hadn’t been used as a national measure in France since the Nazi occupation during World War II.

8. Jeudredi – this light-hearted new coinage refers to the common lockdown problem of not being able to remember what day it is. The mixup of jeudi (Thursday) and vendredi (Friday) described the confusion when days blend into one another. Also sometimes heard is samedimanche (Saturday and Sunday).

9. La Covid-19 – although coronavirus and Covid were international words, we should not forget one of the biggest language takeways of the year – coronavirus is masculine but  Covid-19 is feminine.

But there have been other things apart from Covid-19 happening in France, some of which have also seen previously obscure words go mainstream.

10. Séparatisme – Emmanuel Macron used this word in a major speech of October 2019, and has been widely  used this year by the government to denounce threats to the “values of the Republic”, particularly when talking about Islamic extremism. A controversial new law against séparatisme made Macron the target of sharp criticism from several Muslim-majority countries.

11. Glottophobie – Discrimination based on a person’s accent. In November the French lower house of parliament approved a law banning glottophobie, calling it “a form of racism”. The previous month Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) movement, was caught being rude to a journalist with a southern accent. The prime minister, Jean Castex, who has a south west accent, has been the target of patronising comments in the French media.

12. Passer à tabac – this colloquial phrase meaning to beat someone up or give them a kicking went mainstream thanks to one of the biggest controversies of the year in France, which was around police violence. As the Black Lives Matter movement took off around the world, France too saw protests over long-standing issues of violence and racism by some French police officers. In November a shocking video surfaced, showing officers in Paris subjecting a black music producer to a violent and lengthy beating. Four officers have now been charged over the attack.

Member comments

  1. Why have the French invented ‘quatorzaine’ for a 14 day period, when ‘quinzaine’ already exists to describe a 14 day period – or a fortnight, if you prefer?

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What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.