When French words are really English

<Photo of walkie talkies sold in France>Pictured are some walkie talkies, or, as they’re known in France, talkie walkies. The French are proud of their language, and rightly so, and they go out of their way to create new words so the English language doesn’t take their language over. In fact, they even have the Acadamie français, with 35 current ‘immortals’ who get to wear funky outfits while they toy with the idea of replacing recent English words (like ‘software’) with made-up French words (like ‘logiciel‘).

Yes, these people are called ‘immortals’ by the French due to their contribution to the French language. I imagine they had heavy hearts when the French government decided to change all ‘Arret‘ road signs to ‘Stop’ signs. They’ve also given into the French usage of ‘weekend’ and ‘wifi’ (pronounced ‘whiffy’), which is a major bonus when playing Scrabble in French.

But these are exceptions. When a new English word barges nonchalantly into the French language, the immortals are on the case toute suit. They come up with an entirely new word that sounds French. So what happened with ‘talkie walkie‘? Of course the French pronounce it with an accent which sounds cool and hilarious in equal measures, but it doesn’t sound at all French. I can only presume that they’ll be called something completely different within a few years.

But for now, we can all rejoice in the talkie walkie. Rejoice with me by listening to the recording! What do you think?

Talkie walkie’Click to play

I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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8 comments on “When French words are really English
  1. Boggart says:

    Logiciel is one case where the AF have got it spot on, it is a much more apt and accurate description of what is being described. Software is a dreadful Americanism that has entered the language.

    If you really want to find the most anti-English intrusion into the French language then the French Canadians take the top spot. ANY word or phrase that is remotely connected to English has to be changed into French.

  2. Manuel says:

    I always think it would be a great answer to our problems in America if we could return the statue of liberty to France, melt it down or something when the right price commands it.. or at least add an update to that has the part “send me your poor wretched huddled masses” with an appropriate and fitting “and we will send them all right back to you ”
    Joking of course..

    We have enough problems in language without someone inventing new words to justify their salary and school or tites……I recall Esperanta as a universal medium..which I did not fare very well.
    Of course Universalism is not what these friends are seeking..

    Words evolve many times spontaneously with a group..evolve like Gringo did from Green Go Green Go the the American soldiers wearing green at that time, rampaging and the Mexican villagers yelling that at them among other things, unmentionable here. But it went viral even then..
    The hot Dog in Mexico is called a Ho’cho..the derogaotry Spic for Puerto Ricans evolved from No speak’ English..and the Speaka went to spic thanks to some caring linguists in da’ hood….White Anglo Saxon Protestants..to Wap prononced Wop..we could go on and on even with words once innocent like gay …to fag..for the cigarette. More useful was General purpose Vehicle..that became GP to Jeep.

    Intrusions work both ways..

    What French Woman would say today she visited a Menagerie with all its implications when the English is so far better..Zoo…yes no?
    Thanks to the intrusions neither of our cultures..on the net or off it..are not speaking in speaking in Latin, or Ye olde’ English..The tendency of the mind to seek an imaginary line..will find the principle it is the shortest distance between two points useful and almost done unconsciously and unintentionally..
    Of course the Purists would say the French language is so sacred and deserves to be preserved the way some would preserve a pickle in jar of vinegar..freeze it in time..why..it may even be possible to create a Maginot Line with these new words..around the Language!..to once and for prevent these evil intrusions..that threaten to bastardize it. But..There is something about artificial wall..someone once said..that nature does not like. Roberto Frost..it was I believe..
    they don’t ever seem to do or prevent anything
    Life and Language..can be very much persistent like the industrious ant..or like the blade of grass that miraculously srouts from the cement of an old highway..
    In a few hundred years. a nanosecond in the scheme of things.what we read may bear no resemblacne to what we read now..but the process of communication will continue.despite the efforts of revisionists and progressive or regressive purists…

    Perhaps Carl Sandberg said it best

    “There are no handles upon a language by which men take hold of it and mark it with signs for its remembrance.
    It is a river this language, breaking new course once in a thousand years changing its way to the ocean.
    It is mountain Effluvia moving into valleys
    and from Nation to Nation crossing borders and mixing.
    Languages die like Rivers..
    Words wrapped around your tongue today
    and broken to shapes of thought between your teeth and lips speaking now and today shall be
    faded heiroglyphics
    ten thousand years from now.
    Sing–and–Singing Remember
    your song dies and changes
    and is not here to–morrow
    anymore than the wind blowing
    ten thousand years ago. ”

    I am sure being in such exclusive circles they may not have come across simple words like these or perhaps..
    some may just not want to.

  3. Enjoying Canadian French at the moment – it all looks as though it has been ineptly translated from English by someone using a dictionary.

  4. James says:

    As an English Canadian who speaks French, I don’t get the jab at Canadian French (the entire dialect is an inept translation of English? Really?). A society of about seven million people has maintained its francophone heritage despite living in a sea of over 300 million English speakers, which is no mean feat. They could teach the French a thing or two about pride in the language and culture, too.

    French-Canadians, being a linguistic minority in their homeland, are definitely affected by English and use many anglicisms. They at least recognise that as a problem and try to fix things *and* come up with words that make sense and are usually actually adopted by the people, which is something l’académie française must salivate over…Imagine, relevance! 🙂

    Arrêt *is* on the stop signs in Canada, people say ‘courriel’ for email, ‘pourriel’ for spam, ‘logiciel’ is not a funny sounding word to us, ‘wi-fi’ is the more apt ‘sans-fil’, etc.

    Also, as someone who’s had a job in the past using a walkie-talkie, I know that nobody who works with one actually calls it that. They’re properly referred to as a ‘radio’ (think short wave radio). So perhaps the French could just call it that or some similar term? Talkie-Walkie is hilarious! We must enjoy it while it lasts! 🙂

  5. Steph says:

    I didn’t know they were called immortals, but since this is France where self-worth ranks highly, then what else would they call themselves!

  6. Funny post! I’ve been meaning to write something on this subject for a while – maybe I’ll steal your topic next year when I start back! It is something that I think is interesting and the French definitely take it seriously!

  7. learn says:

    Great write up. I am beginner of learning French language. I have taken various courses to learn French. I have got some ideas from you . Thanks for sharing this nice post.

  8. Frederic says:

    Preserving the language’s authenticity is a matter taken very seriously by the Académie française. I personallly think it’s important too, to protect the heritage of French language.
    However, I believe replacing “Talkie walkie” is case closed, but the immortals are surely not taking a rest!

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by wendyhollands.com, my other site.

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