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French dictionary adds record number of new words as Covid shapes language

Asymptomatique and télétravailler, home working, among additions to 2022 edition of Le Petit Larousse

One of the bibles of the French language, Le Petit Larousse, is to include a record number of new words many of which have emerged from the coronavirus epidemic.

The 2022 edition of the famous illustrated dictionary contains 170 additional entries to reflect what its editors describe as an unprecedented year of challenges both in health and language.

I’ve never seen such a linguistic change. It reminds me of what happened during the French revolution, an upheaval, the appearance of new words and meanings and above all a collective appropriation of the language,” Bernard Cerquiglini, a professor of linguistics and scientific adviser to Le Petit Larousse, told France Info.

Among the new entries are Sars-CoV-2 and Covid-19 nouns, which take the feminine ‘la’ form, asymptomatique, quatorzaine, a 14-day quarantine period, réa for reanimation or intensive care, and télétravailler, home working. Perhaps less obvious is coronapiste, a cycle lane introduced during the Covid crisis.

Quite what the Académie Française, the fierce watchdogs of the French language and bitter opponents of anglicisms, will make of some of the new dictionary entries, is anyone’s guess. These include cluster, click-and-collect, batch cooking, émoji, mocktail and the acronym VPN.

Other words reflect events that have hit the French headlines over the last year including reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States. The new edition of Le Petit Larousse will include the word racisé, an adjective to denote “someone who is the object of racist perceptions and/or behaviour”.

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The Larousse committee is made up of 40 people, 20 staff and 20 external advisers from a range of spheres including the sciences, arts, gastronomy and technology.

Cerquiglini, who holds the special status of “grand sage”, oversees the selection of new words from an initial long-list of several thousand. It usually takes three years of widespread use for a word to be chosen, compared with 10 years for the Académie Française dictionary, and the committee normally limits itself to around 150 new entries.

Carine Girac-Marinier, the director of the Larousse dictionary and encyclopaedia department, said Le Petit Larousse reflected changes in society.

“This edition is obviously completely immersed in the epidemic. What is fascinating is that during this health crisis, the language has been extraordinarily dynamic. There have been few anglicisms and a lot of lexical creations,” she told Le Figaro.

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