Mind your language

What the French now mean when they say ‘bugger’

And other alarming neologisms

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

The French for tête-à-tête is one-to-one now, according to a new survey of English invaders by Alexandre des Isnards. Actually, only half of the 400 neologisms that M. Isnards has collected for his Dictionnaire du Nouveau Français (Allary Editions) are English, though that’s a high enough level.

It seems to me that French and English people are in common cause here, for it is in business-speak that the English neologisms most easily put down their nasty little suckers — an unweeded garden in both languages. Bullet-points now seem as desirable to French business people as to English. Verbs are spawned simply by sticking –er on the end of English words: forwarder, photoshoper (with a single p), rebooter. Se skyper, with a show of syntactic flair, is a reflexive verb. To English eyes, French usage can seem surreal. Bugger is one of the new words. J’ai buggé means, I think, ‘I have a computer virus’.

M. Isnards lives and breathes neologisms. He long ago witnessed French people adopting acronyms (OMG, WTF) for exclamations from a foreign tongue. Sometimes, he observes, French gets its own back by mangling the words it adopts. So la loose means something a loser experiences, and never mind the extra ‘o’. He was quick to pick up on a new expression that a young woman in the office used all the time: C’est mar. He hadn’t heard it before, he told the magazine Tranfuge, but it became clear that it meant ça suffit or basta. (Some people use basta in English, but to my ears it sounds like saying ciao — inauthentic.)

After four years of shovelling neologisms into his book, M. Isnards chooses a strange one as his favourite. It is plussoyer. The origin is the internet, where one is often invited to click little boxes, often, no doubt, to activate a herd of Trojan horses and set them galloping into one’s address book, and you are soon buggé. A parallel in English is to like by clicking the Facebook icon; in speech one has to use oral quotation marks or signify them with one’s fingers: ‘I “liked” your restaurant on the website.’ In French now, for ‘I agree’, ‘I second that’, you simply say je plussoie.

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  • rorysutherland

    A very interesting technology-driven trend is that Americans now understand – and occasionally use – the word to queue, since they have come across the term in IT usage – such as “document is queuing” when printing something from a PC.

    • heyheythere

      We are starting to say it in real life, too, because of that. Not often, but it’s happening. You will see news reporters writing about a line (like for the iphone launch or the like) as a queue, but normal Americans don’t say it. We’ll say it more like queued document. Like in a classroom when there will be multiple presentations, you may say “he’s got that presentation queued up,” meaning it’s ready to go next. It’s like saying “on deck,” but with objects – you wouldn’t use it with people the way you would with “on deck.” (“On deck” is from baseball, just explaining because it’s a UK site.)

      • black11hawk

        That reminds me of Obama recent statement on sanctions against Russia, when he said they were ‘teed up’.

      • unsettledswan

        “he’s got that presentation queued up” is more probably “cued up”

        • heyheythere

          I don’t think so. You mean like ready for its cue? That seems odd to me.

    • Swiss Bob

      I don’t think it’s your “document is queuing” because in MS it doesn’t say that. However, “queueing” has become more and more important in many IT applications, IBM’s MQ is solely a message queuing system that virtually everyone who has worked in IT would know of and anyone with an academic interest in computing would understand and know how important ‘queuing theory’ is.