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French Academy Tries to Ban English Words (Again)

By
Mignon Fogarty,

 

I've always been fascinated by the Académie Française, a French academy established in 1635 that tries to defend the French language. I wrote about them in The Grammar Devotional, in part because it cracks me up that they call their 40 members "immortals" and in part because regulating language seems like an almost impossible task.

"E-mail." Bad. "Courriel." Good.

The past stories I've read seemed to have focused on the immortals' condemnation of technology-related English words that were seeping into France such as "e-mail" (they recommend "courriel") and "software" (they recommend "logiciel"), but this week the Académie Française launched a new section on its website for hated Anglicisms, and the first two words aren't technological words.

New Hated Anglicisms

Their first two targets are "le best of" and "impacter." According to the Telegraph, "impacter" is a Frenchified version of the verb "to impact." The Académie Française site recommends the French version of "affect" instead, and in this case, the body is aligned with some English usage guides which call "impact" as a verb business jargon and recommend "affect" instead.

The immortals intend to add new words to their English blacklist every month.

An English Version of the French Academy?

 

In 2010, the Queen's English Society proposed setting up an English version of the Académie Française to defend English, for example, to fight the kind of change that makes "gay" no longer the word of choice to mean "happy." The proposal does not appear to have gotten much traction and seems like an idea as ridiculous and impossible as the immortals battling "e-mail."

English, like all languages, is constantly changing. For some people it changes too fast, and for others it doesn't change fast enough. I believe, of course, that there's no harm in making recommendations about what constitutes Standard English today, but to try to form a body that ratifies those choices seems extreme.

The difference is in attitude. There may be no difference between the Chicago Manual of Style and whatever publication the Queen's English Society would produce, but the Chicago editors know they are making recommendations, whereas the  Académie Française and Queen's English Society seem to believe they are making rules or laws.

(Thanks to Alan Headbloom for bringing this story to my attention.)

Mignon Fogarty is the author of six books, including The Grammar Devotional. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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