From cluster to coronapiste: The new words entering the French dictionary

From cluster to coronapiste: The new words entering the French dictionary
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP
The health crisis has changed daily life in France in so many ways that it should come as little surprise that it has added an unusually high number of new words to the French language.

French dictionary Le Petit Larousse has added 170 new words to its 2022 dictionary, many of them a direct and indirect result of the pandemic. 

In a normal year, about 150 are added, distilled down over the course of a year from a selection of around 1,000 candidate words, Bernard Cerquiglini, professor of linguistics and adviser to Le Petit Larousse, told France Info.

“I’ve never seen such a linguistic change. To me it seems similar to what happened during the French revolution, an upheaval, the appearance of new words and meanings and above all a collective appropriation of the language,” he said.

READ ALSO The 29 French words and phrases we’ve learned during a year-long health crisis

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Among the new entries are the nouns Sars-CoV-2 and Covid-19. The dictionary follows the ruling of France’s language guardians Academie française that it is le coronavirus but la Covid-19.

La quatorzaine – a 14-day quarantine period, a portmanteau of quatorze (14) and la quaranatine (quarantine)

La réa – a shortened version of réanimation or intensive care in a hospital context

Télétravailler – home-working or remote working. Télé can be added to many words to imply that they are done online, such as télémédicine for an online medical consultation, which also became far more widespread during the pandemic   

Le gel hydroalcoolique – hand gel

Le patient zéro – Patient zero or the first patient to be diagnosed with a condition, often the source of a cluster

Le cluster – the anglicism ‘cluster’ has become widely used over the past year to describe a cluster of related cases of the virus

La coronapiste – cycle paths created to encourage cycling and reduce the number of public transport users during the pandemic. A new coinage, this is another portmanteau, of coronavirus and piste cyclable or cycle path

As well as the new creations were words that had previously been obscure, rarely used or largely forgotten

Le confinement and le déconfinement have returned to daily use and the pages of Le Petit Larousse, after years of only being used in the nuclear field. Yet as the words to describe the lockdown and then the lifting of lockdown they have become hugely important to everyday life.

Le reconfinement, meanwhile, is a newer construction describing the process of going back into lockdown after a period or relative freedom.

Asymptomatique is more than 100 years old, but had fallen out of use, according to Le Figaro, but has been in common parlance to talk about people who test positive for Covid, yet have no symptoms

L’écouvillon – this now means the nasal swab used for Covid tests, but had been in common use in the Middle Ages to describe cylindrical brushes used to clean the barrels of muskets and cannon. 

Meanwhile, the adjective racisé – to describe a someone who is the object of racist perception and/or behaviour – reflects headline-making events of the past 12 months, including reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States. 

So far, the members of the Académie Française, official bastions of the language, have kept their opinions of some the new entries, which include click-and-collect (the recognisably French cliquer-retirer is also included), batch cooking, and mocktail, to themselves. 

But the Académie’s long-standing distrust of anglicisms is well known. It has come up with many French alternatives to widely-used English words although their adoption by the French people is usually mixed, with most pople inexplicably preferring le wifi to the Academie’s preferred l’access sans fil à internet (wireless access to the internet).


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