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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Sunday, 21 June 2015

First World War words adopted from English into French


Well known are the words that were adopted from French into English during the First World War. Some were fairly simple exchanges, new words for old: ‘coupon’ pushed ‘ticket’ aside, ‘moral’ became ‘morale’, and ‘souvenir’ was souvenired, making ‘keepsake’ look decidedly old-fashioned. Otherwise we would recognise the French words from which ‘finee’, ‘compree’, and ‘tray bon’ come, via anglicised pronunciation. Some picked up some very English wordplay in their travel across the Channel: ‘tout de suite’ became ‘toot the sweet’, and gained the after-comment ‘and the tooter the sweeter’.

Less well known in the UK are the words that the French adopted from English, in some cases, joyously, reclaiming words adopted from French centuries earlier. These come from L’Argot de la Guerre by Albert Dauzat, first published in 1918, and reissued in 2009, with an introduction by Odile Roynette:

‘Emprunts’ (loans) include ‘bizness’ – for work or business, a longstanding usage in Paris; ‘souinger’ – to bomb, from ‘swing’, originally ‘donner un swing’, probably from boxing; ‘uppercut’ – eau-de-vie, also from boxing; ‘rider’ , pronounced 'ridér'– chic, especially in the language of the cavalry (Dauzat states ‘le rider est le cavalier anglais, donc le cavalier chic – a case of the French looking to the English for style, which must be a rarity); ‘ours’ – horse, maybe picked up from Londoners; ‘go’ – meaning ‘ça va’; ‘come on’ meaning just that; and ‘tanks’, which Dauzat translates as ‘les auto-mitrailleuses ou les auto-camions blindés’ (reinforced); ‘blindés’ itself meant ‘tanks’.

Somehow recruits into the French Army in 1918 came to be known as ‘canadiens’.

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