Académie Française challenged to update language with fresh bon mots

Could attachiant, eurogner or bête seller win approval from the French-language watchdog and make it into the dictionary?

Jeanne Moreau in the film JULES ET JIM

Attachiante: a woman you can’t live with but can’t live without, as personified by Jeanne Moreau’s character Catherine in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Photograph: The Ronald Grant Archive

The French may be notoriously touchy about their language, but it seems even the watchdogs of the august Académie Française – whose members, known as “immortals”, have had the last word in matters of Gallic linguistics since 1635 – are not averse to accepting new entries to their celebrated dictionary.

Whether the offerings of the 2011 XYZ festival of new words will pass scrutiny, however, is another matter. Celebrating its 10th year of promoting neologisms, the festival, held in the western French port of Le Havre this weekend, announced its word of the year at the weekend.

The winner was attachiant(e) – a combination of attachant (captivating, endearing) and the slang word chiant (bloody nuisance) to denote someone you cannot live with but cannot live without.

It was followed closely by aigriculteur suggesting a farmer unhappy with his lot in life – as many are – by mixing the French word for farmer withaigri (embittered) and with just a hint of aïe! (French for ouch!).

A particular favourite that made this year’s shortlist was bête seller, describing a particularly awful literary work that becomes an instant hit, and the timely eurogner – euro plus rogner (to cut down) – to suggest making savings in the euro zone.

Someone had also come up with the verb textoter (to write SMS messages on a mobile telephone), presumably something last year’s winner, a phonard – a pejorative term for someone who is glued to their mobile phone – does all the time.

Previous festivals have thrown up gems including ordinosore (ordinateurplus dinosaur, an out-of-date computer), bonjoir (bonjour plus bonsoir, a greeting to be said around midday), and photophoner (to take a photo with a mobile phone).

Éric Donfu, a sociologist and expert in changes in contemporary society, who is the festival’s founder and organiser, said the idea of the event is to breathe new life into the French language. “This festival defends the idea, as expounded by Victor Hugo, that language is a living thing and dies if we don’t invent new words,” he said.

Members of the public are invited to submit their ideas for neologisms A shortlist is drawn up and presented to festival guests in Paris and Le Havre in the third week of November.

It remains to be seen whether the Académie Française, which in recent years has concentrated on eliminating nasty Anglo-Saxon interlopers from the French language, will consider any of the new words when it draws up the latest volume of its dictionary.

The three published volumes of the ninth edition – on which work began in 1986 – contains more than 35,000 words, including 15,000 deemed new, and their correct usage. In its eternal quest for linguistic purity and definition, a fourth volume is in progress.

On its website it says: “The Académie never refuses modernness. It only refuses that which threatens the continuity of the language.”

It also states that the Académie’s principle role is to “work with all possible care and diligence to give our language definite rules and to make it pure, eloquent and capable of dealing with art and science”.

And what could be clearer, when dealing with the art and science of love, than describing someone as attachiant(e)?


 in Paris –, Sunday 27 November 2011


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