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Know your 'PLS' from your ‘Quoicoubeh’? Here are the new additions to France’s Le Petit Robert

French dictionary Le Petit Robert has added 150 new words and terms - how many do you know?
French dictionary Le Petit Robert has added 150 new words and terms - how many do you know? Copyright AFP - Le Petit Robert - Stock
Copyright AFP - Le Petit Robert - Stock
By David Mouriquand
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Selected by the team of lexicographers for the 2024 edition of the dictionary Le Petit Robert, these new verbs, adverbs or common nouns "are a mirror held up to society".

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Hitting French shelves today is the newest edition of France’s dictionary, Le Petit Robert.

First published in 1967, the dictionary contains over 100,000 words and expressions, and the 2024 edition has introduced 150 new words into the French lexicon.

The update includes a varied selection of anglicisms, as well as terms which are prevalent in current societal topics like online dating, ecological fears and the topic of gender.

The additions "are a mirror held up to society", says Géraldine Moinard, editorial director of the dictionary, explaining they reflect the tendencies of current French speakers.

Here’s the lowdown.

Anglicisms

While dictionary competitor Larousse states that some anglicisms are “discouraged” and prefer to highlight French equivalents due to the desire of bodies like the ‘guardians’ of the French language, the Académie Française, to keep anglicisms out of the French language, Le Petit Robert don’t see this as a problem.

Words and expressions like ‘flex office’ (a workplace with no defined office space, allowing workers to work both at home and in temporarily rented spaces), ‘crush’ and ‘spoiler’ all feel familiar. 

However, words like ‘instagrammable’ (something that looks good enough to post on the photo-sharing app Instagram), or ‘ghoster’ (to ghost - when you ignore a potential romantic partner after a date) might raise some eyebrows. There’s also ‘bader’, which means to be depressed, originating from the English word ‘bad’.

But it’s not just English words entering the dictionary this year…

French’s status as a global language brings in new words from other Francophone cultures. For example, the Belgian word ‘gayolle’ (or ‘gayole’ – meaning a small cage for an animal, a goal in football, or a prison) has been included, as well as the Quebecois ‘infonuagique’ (the cloud).

A reflection of our times

Whether its societal evolutions or modern anxieties, many additions this year reflect current French life.

Digital language and technological advancements are key aspects, with new words and phrases such as le 'métavers' (metaverse), 'le minage de cryptomonnaie' (cryptomining – or cryptocurrency mining), 'cryptoart', and 'le moissonnage de données' (data harvesting).

There are also a lot of words relating to ecology - most often in negative terms. 'Greenwashing', 'dette climatique' (climate debt), 'microplastique' and 'mégabassine' (in the news recently as campaigners in France sought to stop the construction of giant water storage facilities) all point towards anxieties over the planet’s current state.

“We need vocabulary to express these fears,” says Moinard, highlighting other new inclusions relating to recent political events such as ‘zone à faible émission’ (ZFE, or low-emission zone), and ‘nasser’ (police and law officers surrounding and encircling demonstrators, a term used in the context of maintaining order during the demonstrations against the controversial pension reform) as examples of the French language’s need to adapt to new situations and social debates emerging in the country.

Another example is ‘complosphère’, a term regularly trotted out in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic. The term qualifies "the group of people who participate in the dissemination of ideas deemed to be conspiracy theories on the Internet".

Finally, there’s the word ‘mégenrer’ (to misgender someone), which designates attributing to a person, voluntarily or not, a gender to which the person does not recognize for themselves.

"Gender is a theme that creates new words," explains Moinard, referring to discussions around gender which are becoming increasingly important in France.

Borne to be included

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has been honoured in this year's dictionary, alongside the French economist Philippe Aghion and the new King of England, Charles III.

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The paramilitary group Wagner also gets its own definition.

The youth of today

Le Petit Robert brings words that are mostly used by young people, like the aforementioned ‘bader’ or ‘être en PLS’, meaning to be in “a state of collapse" / crashing / to be disappointed. 

'PLS' stands for 'Position Latérale de Sécurité', signifying lying on the floor because of emotional distress.

There’s also the term propagated by TikTok, 'Quoicoubeh', which consists of setting a verbal trap for a friend, a parent or even a teacher. You ask a question, mumbling the end of the sentence on purpose. The person you're talking to is supposed to query: "What?” And then you answer "Quoicoubeh!” 

It’s one of the dumbest entries on the list, but it’s popularity cannot be ignored. The first time this word appeared was on 13 December 2022 on the TikTok account La Vache. In less than four months, #quoicoubeh exceeded 130 million views on the social network.

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Brave new wor(l)d.

Additional sources • France Inter

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