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The Académie française, its dictionary and its blog

Barbara McClintock, C.Tr.
Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council


According to its website, the Académie française was founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu. It was discontinued during the French Revolution but was later restored by Bonaparte. The Académie has 40 members, the académiciens, who are referred to as the immortals because they are appointed for life, although they may be removed for misconduct. The members are tasked with publishing a dictionary. The first edition appeared in 1694, and they are now working on the ninth edition, of which the first volume was published in 1992 and the second (éocène to mappemonde) in 2000. The third volume, ending in Q, will be released in late 2011. Go to note 1 However, the dictionary from A to quadrivium is already available for consultation on the Académie website. For example, I looked up mappemonde online. The etymology is provided with the following usage recommendation: "Il est fautif d'utiliser ce terme pour désigner une sphère représentant le globe terrestre." Go to note 2 In other words, mappemonde does not refer to a round globe, but rather to a flat map of the world showing two hemispheres, sometimes called a planisphere according to the OQLF granddictionnaire. Go to note 3

Say this, not that

The Académie française recently added a new section to its website called "Dire, ne pas dire," where it lists anglicisms to be banned, provides examples of the incorrect usage of French and makes recommendations for correct usage. Here, for example, the Académie recommends le meilleur de, which is used in Quebec, or the flowery florilège, rather than the anglicism best of in reference to collections of music. In another entry, it recommends banning the use of impacter as a verb under the influence of English and replacing it by affecter or avoir des conséquences, des effets sur quelque chose. And it criticizes pas de souci, preferring cela ne pose pas de difficulté. I notice that there is no mention of the very elegant sans souci, which is presumably acceptable. Unfortunately, the Académie also says that the popular expression au niveau de means à la hauteur de and should be used only for a position in space, e.g., Une brèche est apparue au niveau de la ligne de flottaison. I don't think this recommendation will catch on in Quebec because the alternatives provided for au niveau de are limited to en ce qui concerne, quant à and pour ce qui touche!

The Académie française rails against French railways

Yves Pouliquen expresses his indignation in the Académie members' blog—which he says is more properly called a bloc‑notes in French—against French train company SNCF and its S'Miles program. He complains about rampant anglicisms in the company's advertising, such as seat and coach. What is the longest word in the English language? It's smiles, of course, with a mile between the s's. The play on words is delightful in English, but why not come up with something in French, such as Voyager avec le sourire or Voyager sans souci?

Just say oui!

The Académie members write that it is not necessary to give more weight to your approval of something by saying absolument, effectivement, tout à fait, exactement or parfaitement; just say oui. I must say that this last recommendation is easier said than done! As a bilingual Quebecer, I have adopted these interjections in my speech myself. I certainly prefer hearing someone say Absolument! rather than Genre… or Ben ouais!

Return to note 1 The Académie française: custodians of the French language
Return to note 2 Dictionnaire de l'Académie française
Return to note 3 Le grand dictionnaire termologique