Rumours, or crazes, which sweep through the French-language internet – or "la toile" – should no longer be known as "le buzz". They should in future be called "le ramdam", which may be Arabic but at least is not English. Similarly, the practice of souping up or "pimping" cars should no longer be known to French teenagers as "le tuning". It should be referred to as "le bolidage" from the French slang word for a high-powered car, "le bolide" (literally a fire-ball or meteorite).
France's Canute-like efforts to prevent the French language from being invaded by modern English terminology entered a new phase yesterday. The government announced the results of its first open competition, among schoolchildren and students, to identify French-sounding terms for 21st-century phenomena.
The winning entries will be taken up by the 18 ministerial committees which already exist to invent, and promote, French neologisms to drive out anglicisms. If given formal approval, they will be published in the Journal Officiel of the French Republic. All public servants will then be ordered to use the words in the hope, or expectation, that they will enter the everyday language.
Five terms for innovations, or obsessions, of the internet generation were put out to open competition by the French secretariat for the French-speaking world in February. What should the correct French be for "le buzz" and "le tuning"? How about "le talk" as in "talk radio"? Or "le chat" as in an internet "chatroom"? Or "le newsletter"?
A committee of judges, including the internationally successful French rapper (or rather "rappeur") MC Solaar, reached rapid decisions on the first two words.
They decided that "buzz" should be "ramdam" – proposed by Elodie Dufour-Merle, a student at the University of Aix-Marseille. It is the Arab term for the cacophony when fasting ends at nightfall during the Ramadam religious festival. "[It] was the unanimous choice," MC Solaar said. "It brought to mind the idea of the 'Arab telephone' – information that is in the ether."
"Tuning", they decided, should be "bolidage", invented by a journalism student from Lyons, Charles Fontaine.
A short list emerged for each of the other three words and the winners were announced yesterday. "Talk" might have been "cacoforum", "causerie" or "debatel" but ended up rather uninspiringly as "débat". "Chat" might have been "bavardage", or "papotage" but the joint winners were "éblabla" and "tchatche". For "newsletter", the judges considered "niouzlettre", "plinfo", "inforiel", "jourriel" and "journiel" but chose "infolettre".
Students who sent in successful entries were promised placements in French cultural missions abroad.
Contrary to popular belief, new terminology for the French language is not invented by the Académie Française, although that august body does advise the 18 ministerial "committees of terminology and neologisms".
Some of the hundreds of officially concocted terms have successfully entered the language of Racine, Molière and Proust. "Logiciel" for software is now common. So are "mondialisation" for globalisation and "voyagiste" for tour operator. Other official suggestions have flopped completely. The lives of French motorists are still saved by "les air bags" not by "les sacs gonflables". French texters still send "les smileys" not "frimousses". They still post "post-its" not "papillons", and they watch "les sitcoms" not "les comédies de situations pour la télévision".
French alternatives: Hits and misses
Officially coined words which stuck:
" Bogue" for "bug"
" Logiciel" for "software"
" Baladeur" for "Walkman"
" Capital risque" for "venture capital"
Officially coined words which flopped:
" Jeune pousse" for "start-up"
" Fouineur" for "hacker"
" Frimousse" for "smiley"
" Presonorisation" for "play-back"