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Pardon? The increasing use of Franglais

Pardon? The increasing use of Franglais

Emma-Jane Lee, our language expert, casts an eye over the increasing use of Franglais..

learning-french-phrasesFrench is easy, they tell you. So many English words are derived from French, they say. For the novice linguist, it certainly doesn’t seem like that when faced with dense and complex paperwork, or confusing conversations with your neighbours. French can be a minefield. Even a small word like à or sur can make the difference between establishing a business and suspending someone in phrases like mettre sur pied and mettre à pied

What can be even harder still is when you have spent your formative years learning to say les achats and faire les courses and you hear your French friends who font du shopping. It just doesn’t seem right to use le shopping. Quite frankly, it feels like language cheating.

When you’re learning French, you may find yourself coming across a version of English that is quite unexpected, though, and not all of the English-looking words make obvious sense. Anyone driving past a sign for a ball-trap might be quite alarmed by these two words that sound English but conjure up terribly painful visions. Not only that, even if you know it means ‘clay-pigeon shooting’, you might very well be left wondering how le ball-trap came to look so very English and yet leave you scratching your head in bewilderment.

Le ball-trap is not the only Franglais you’ll find yourself learning. These false Anglicisms are everywhere - notably in conversation, where L’Academie Française can’t cast a frowning eye and insist on a more French term. Sure, email might be le courrier électronique to the linguistically pure, but many of my French friends opt for un mail. Life is certainly a lot easier if someone forwarder un mail about le weekend. But le brushing, le smoking, le relooking and le lifting might leave you wondering why these words look so familiar but seem so strange.

Le brushing is fairly straightforward, especially since it follows le shampooing. It’s a blow-dry. You could call it thermobrossage if you want to avoid anglicisms, but you might find you are faced with blank looks. The French sont fans of words that finish in ‘ing’ but the purists are definitely not. As per usual, the words of the guy on the street often win out, even if the academics try to fight back. You’ll also find le lifting - a facelift. Much easier than saying une opération de rajeunissement or le lissage. Le must-have of the moment is le relooking. A makeover pour les fashionistas.

The beauty salon is not the only place to find an invasion of les franglicismes. Technology and television have also had an impact. Anyone who downloads regularly will be familiar with télécharger, but its opposite? Uploader of course. And if you liked something on Facebook, you’d say liké as well. If someone gives you un spoiler, you can even reply with Ne spoilez pas! Don’t spoil it. Ne gâchez pas le plaisir just doesn’t seem so easy. Le prime-time and le teaser probably won’t take a dictionary to translate. L’heure de grande écoute and une accroche (a hook) just aren’t as well-used in most conversations.


Business is equally filled with words that are either directly imported from the English-speaking world, or are refashioned and frenchified words. Un planning, business, briefer les collaborateurs and un briefing are very popular. Un briefing is a word that has come full circle, coming originally from French, un bref, which meant a letter or message. A briefing in English does exactly that: gives you an update and the key messages. Now it has crossed back over to its country of origin.

The tourist industry is not without some anglicisms. Surbooké for overbooked is very common: a kind of marriage of sur, the French for over, and the English ‘booking’. Instead of asking for un aller simple you can ask for un single on the train. You might even want to payer cash.

Even the world of sport has its fair share of adopted words. Le goal, le rugbyman, le team are all fairly straightforward (except le goal is more accurately the goalkeeper) but le catch is one that you might hear pre-teen boys obsessing over. Professional wrestling. Le money-time is one that is also a bit obscure. It’s often used in handball commentaries to describe the definitive moments of the game.

Most of these you will hear much more currently in speech, and it certainly doesn’t help that your Robert or Larousse give you terms that are hardly used by the French-speaking population. Just when you find yourself getting to grips with another language, you also end up re-learning your own!


Emma is a jack-of-all-language-trades, writing English textbooks, translating, marking exam scripts and teaching languages. She lives near La Rochefoucauld with her growing menagerie. See 

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. Published December 2014.