The Académie Francaise is the ferocious guardian of the French language.
Created in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII,
it has 40 members, who are known as “immortals” because they hold office for life. The Académie is the chief authority on the French language and publishes an official dictionary.
In the past it has asked French speakers to replace the word “Walkman” with “baladeur”, “software” with “logiciel” and “email” with “courriel”. Not sure it’s been that successful there.
Now, with the threat of the language becoming even further diluted (the immortals must know we’re all here), it has taken the radical step of starting to list, on a special section of its website, English words it wants banned.
Under the title “Dire, ne pas dire” [say, don’t say], the website so far lists a grand total of two Anglicisms.
These are, bizarrely, best-of (complete with hyphen) and “impacter”, two words we, of course, use regularly. They suggest replacing “impacter” with “affecter”, and best-of with the word “florilege” or the phrase “le meilleur de”. They also suggest that les Anglais sometimes spell “best-of” as “best-off”; they are obviously au fait with the declining standards of literacy in the UK. In the spirit of true investigative journalism, I looked up “florilege” and it came up as “anthology”. I’m sure I’ll work it out sooner or later.
But it’s not only us English speakers who have fallen foul of the Académie. It also wants to ban les Francais saying “pas de souci” for “no problem”. Instead, the obedient speaker should say “cela ne pose pas de difficulté” [that does not present a problem], or even “Ne vous inquiétez pas, Rassurez-vous”. Pas de souci there then, mes chers immortals! Why use three words when six will do.
French legislators have taken up the challenge of protecting the language in the past, most notably with the Toubon Law in 1994.The law, named after Jacques Toubon, the minister of culture who introduced it, mandated the use of French in official government publications, all advertising, workplaces and contracts. A related law also imposed quotas on broadcast music, stipulating that at least 40 per cent of music played on TV and radio is in French.