New French Words Reflect Society Influences

French words now reflect changes in its society. When I started spending time there, rules were strict. Words used were those found in dictionaries. As time went on, usage seemed to relax. I don’t even know when it happened. Before 2000, I think. Was it a result of the socialist régime that came in in 1981 with, notably, Jack Lang?
In any case, I see several particular categories of new words and will give some samples of each below: the effect of other cultures, mostly Arabic and English; a counter-culture slang that inverts syllables, called ‘verlan;’ and new words that came from the fields of computers, ecology, medicine and sports.

Here are a few samples of each.

kiffer = aimer
chtarber, chtarbé =(devenir) fou
la smala = la famille, la tribu

glamour (adj.!!!) – glamourous
le buzz = rumors
relooker, un relookage = (to do) a makeover

le verlan < inverstion of the two syllables of “l’envers,” meaning “inversion.”
chébran < “branché,” which means ‘in’ or ‘cool.’
meuf < femme (with its final silent ‘e’ pronounced as a syllable: /famoe/ > /moef/

email (pronounced the same as in English or only the “mail” part)
cliquable – clickable
tchatcher or tchater –  to chat electronically
followers – same as in English but only with respect to electronic sites
un internaute – net surfer

l’altermonidalisation = globalization
l’écotourisme – tourism based on principles of ecology
durable – sustainable
renouvelable – renewable, non-renouvelable – non-renewable
l’énergie éolienne = wind power
le rechauffement global/de la planète/planétaire – global warming

l’IRM = l’Imagerie à Résonance Magnétique
les toxicos < les toxomanes – drug addicts
la grippe aviaire = bird flu
l’IVG = abortion

le tapis roulant = treadmill
le parapente = paragliding
le jogging ~le footing (the latter is slower than the former)
les baskets = running shoes
le lapining – a new sport where athletes run down mountains, avoiding obstacles /lapeening/

new social openness:
paxé (adj) – civilly married according to le Pacte civil de solidarité, le Pacs (pronounced Pax)
l’homoparentalité – a single-parent household
le télétravail – commuter job
le parachutisme = skydiving

I wonder where these come from:
déjanter = fou, to be off one’s rocker
nase = fou, out of it
cartonner – réussir à merveille, le carton – le grand succès < hitting the bullseye, a target
nickel = propre
scotcher = fasciner
people, sometimes spelled pipole (adj.!!!) – La presse people = celebrity magazines
C’est béton – It’s a hit
zoner = glander – to hang out
un bobo < (the first syllables of the two words) un bohémien bourgeous
délocalisation = outsourcing (Bernard ajoute que: “Outsourcing reste difficile à traduire. Les Français emploient souvent le mot anglais, parfois délocalisation, parfois externalisation, parfois sous-traitance (à l’étranger).”)

le Slam, le slammeur/la slammeuse < slam poet

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3 Responses to New French Words Reflect Society Influences

  1. phildange says:

    Déjanter comes from a tire wich gets off its rim (tire rim = jante ). Un carton exists in fairs, in shooting stands . The target is painted on a cardboard ( un carton ), so when you hit the carton it’s a success . And so on . Many slang terms come from a poetic image, after a long twisted run . But there were things you simply ignored in the time . The verlan was active before WWII, in outlaws speeches . There have been many slang words from Arabic origine since the early XXth century and French colonisation of North Africa, much more than you think, and the new suburban ones are not the first ..
    Despite, or due to, the Académie Française, French has owned dozens of elaborate slangs for centuries . Le louchebem, originaly the butchers’ corporation slang, the gangsters slang, ( for this one a complete dictionary exists), le Javanais, among others . And don’t forget the ubiquitous poetic spirit of the French working class who can express the smallest thing or action in ten different colloquial/slangish ways .


  2. Susan says:

    Merci and Thank You for your etymological explanation of some of these words! The point I was trying to make is that the French language (and society to a degree) seemed quite figé, at least in certain social classes and on educational levels, in the 60s and 70s. For example, I don’t remember the “ne” being dropped so often then in expressions like “Je ne sais pas.” But that and other linguistic changes became more and more common as time went on. This was reflected in the clothes women, in particular, wore: high heels were “de rigueur” and there was no biking or rollerblading in the street. There was also no government-organized music played in the streets before Jack Lang – 1981’s régime. It was a major change for me and I enjoyed it. I know some people who consider it a deterioration. …….. Je voudrais que ces commentaires soient autant en français qu’en anglais car mon but est un échange dynamique.


  3. phildange says:

    En France les gens sont attachés aux lois, et en même temps trouvent naturel et humain de pouvoir les contourner ou les enfreindre . C’est pour moi une caractéristique de l’esprit français, le vrai French paradox . Tout le monde trouve légitime l’existence et le rôle de l’Académie Française . Il y a le VRAI français . Beside this, I don’t know one western country where there always been so many non official ways to express everything ( I speak several languages ), and this in every period of history . So yes the 60s/70s looked figées, but in the same time “le peuple” used to speak in more and more different ways, since in addition to the old deviant ways the new Hippies and American music words had been introduced . You maybe only lived in the bourgeois spheres of society, the least interesting, the least true, and you probably didn’t catch and notice the parallel languages .
    Anyway, to grow up, people and individual need a strong resistance . All the French revolutions happened in despotic times, and even the May 68 events happened under de Gaulle, in the last figé time . Since then, everybody can do what was once forbidden, children don’t learn serious Français at school, and what ? Nobody does anything, no revolution and no quest for another world, no new language except texto or cheap US commercial non understood words . A herd of sheep with a very low spirit . Pasolini used to stay in the 60s “Italy has vanished ” . I say the last time when France was France was the 50s .


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