Le Petit Larousse unveiled on Tuesday the 170 words of its new edition. Among them, many are linked to Covid-19. Behind the scenes of the selection of these new entrants to the dictionary, we salute the “incredible linguistic profusion” that the pandemic has allowed.
“Have an aperitif-zoom”, hurtle down a “coronapiste” by bike, identify “clusters”. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, many terms linked to the pandemic have enriched the vocabulary of the French. Some of them will soon go down in posterity by being part of the 170 words included in the new edition of Petit Larousse, the list of which was unveiled on Tuesday, May 4.
From a thousand words to 170
To enter the famous dictionary, “the words must go through a strict selection committee”, explains Bernard Cerquiglini, professor of linguistics and scientific advisor of Petit Larousse, contacted by France 24.
“All year round, lexicographers and linguists read, listen to and note the new terms observed in various media, essays, novels,” he explains. In total, about a thousand words end up at the negotiating table.
“There is only room for 150 of them”, explains the linguist. The final selection is made in the basement of Éditions Larousse. Three specialists debate, vote and sift through each of the words. Bernard Cerquiglini, former vice-president of the Superior Council of the French language, he acts as an advisor.
Several criteria make it possible to decide. “It is obviously necessary to certify that the word is used in writing and orally. It must be shared by a large part of the population and not only by a group”, details the linguist. “For the rest, it’s flair. You have to feel which words have indeed entered everyday language and which may disappear on their own.”
“The French language knew how to name the pandemic”
This year is however an exception with 170 new entrants in the Petit Larousse. A consequence, according to Bernard Cerquiglini, of the significant linguistic expansion generated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The French language has shown its vigor and dynamism”, congratulates the linguist. “She knew how to name the pandemic, its consequences and its twists and turns. Thanks to puns, portfolios, suffixes, prefixes, she found the right words.”
Some terms have been created from scratch, emphasizes the linguist first. Some play on the prefix “corona” as “coronapiste”, this word used to speak of the provisional cycle paths fitted out during deconfinement to promote cycling, or even “corona bond”, European loans. These two words are part of the list of new entrants in the dictionary.
“We had a debate on the new words linked to the aperitif”, recalls Bernard Cerquiglini. And to have fun: “The French love it so much that they have created around fifteen related occurrences: skypéro, aperitifzoom, cyberapéro, coronapéro…”. Finally, none of them was validated, considered too ephemeral.
>> To read also: “From A to Z, the words of a year 2020 marked by the Covid-19”
Other words, meanwhile, have changed meaning to adapt to this year 2021. They already existed in the dictionary but they will be given a new definition. This is the case, in particular, with “gauge”. “Before, we used this term to talk about a level of gasoline. Now, we talk about it to refer to the number of people authorized in a place”, underlines Bernard Cerquiglini.
“The best example is certainly the word ‘confinement’. It was already in the dictionary but it belonged to the lexical field of nuclear power”, notes the linguist. “Today, it is part of everyday language and, in addition to that, it has given rise to a lot of neologisms: ‘reconfinement’, ‘déconfinement’, ‘redéconfinement'”, he continues, before betting on the birth. next “post-deconfinement”.
Finally, other words, previously reserved for specialists in particular in the medical field, or which had fallen into disuse, have entered current usage and have invaded daily conversations. “No one was talking about ‘swabs’ before the pandemic!” Exclaims the linguist. The same goes for “hydroalcoholic”, “pandemic”, “asymptomatic”, incubator “,” nasopharyngeal. “The list is long.
According to Bernard Cerquiglini, this exceptional dynamism of the language can also be seen by the small number of anglicisms that have emerged. “At the start of the pandemic, I feared that the preponderance of medical vocabulary would lead to the creation of a lot of anglicisms. It is not!”
“The French wanted to speak their language,” he insists. “Certainly ‘cluster’ is included in the dictionary, but the same goes for ‘hotbed of contamination'”. And to cite, as another example: “we speak as much about ‘tracking’ as about ‘tracing of contact cases’.” If click – & – collect also makes its entry in the dictionary, it will be alongside its French counterpart “click and collect”. The first will also be discouraged in favor of the second.
In addition to the words linked to the pandemic, Larousse 2022 also welcomes, by tradition, words from the Francophonie and from regional languages. This is particularly the case with the terms “s’jailler” or “nounounerie”.
“‘S’enjailler’ is a marvel,” says Bernard Cerquiglini. Derived from nouchi, a new form of French spoken in Côte d’Ivoire and from English “to enjoy”, this word more and more used by young people means “to party, to have fun”.
Among the other words from the Francophonie or regionalism: “nounouneries”, from Quebec which means “stupidity, stupidity” or “godaille”, used in the Champagne region and in the Ardennes to say “a happy and watered party”. “Words that often make you smile”, sums up Bernard Cerquiglini.
“A mirror of our society”
“These 170 words are a mirror of the changes in our society”, analyzes the linguist. “It was obvious that this edition would be plunged into the pandemic”. But the latter, who has participated in the development of Petit Larousse for ten years, wishes to alert to another change that this new edition highlights: the increasingly common use of “civic” words, even ” activists “.
“For a few years, we only integrated pessimistic words: ‘lone wolf’, ‘eurosceptic’…”, he recalls. “This is changing. We have more and more words that mirror the concerns of our time, such as ecology. Last year, we thus introduced ‘eco-neighborhood'”. This year, Le Petit Larousse will welcome the terms “racialized”, “under-representation” and “over-representation” or even the definition of “street harassment.”
Moreover, Bernard Cerquiglini’s favorite word for this year falls into this last category: “I love the word ‘consumer actor’, a consumer who, by his purchasing choices, intends to influence the offer of producers. there is nothing like a pretty portmanteau! “