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18.9.14

Ask the Académie Française

No one would likely argue that the French do not love their language. The Académie Française, appointed as guardians over the French language, opened a Web site in 2001, called Dire, ne pas dire, where anyone who can surf the Internet can pose a grammar or vocabulary question. The Web site was so successful that the Académie Française chose two hundred-some of the best questions and published them, along with the official responses, in a book of the same title published by Editions Philippe Rey, as reported in an article ("Dire, ne pas dire" : quand l'Académie française répond aux internautes, September 18) in Le point (my tranlsation):
The book also contains, for example, the origin of the expressions "C'est du gâteau" and "C'est pas de la tarte." In effect, rather than being a policeman of the language, the Académie française, founded by Richelieu in 1635, reminds us that it is also attentive to the need for the language's enrichment and for the struggle against the impoverishment of vocabulary.
The most recent entry on the Web site as of this writing (Cela ressort de mes attributions, September 9) sorts out a puzzler, the two verbs ressortir and ressortir, which are identical in the infinitive but are conjugated differently because they come from different etymological sources. One means to leave a place shortly after having entered it, which is conjugated irregularly like sortir, and the other means to spring from, which is conjugated regularly as an -ir verb. The former verb takes the preposition "de," while the latter takes the preposition "à." Other recent entries concern the distinction of luxuriant from luxurieux, the archaic word mésaise (as used in the works of Chrétien de Troyes), and of course the proscription of English words (le short list, spoiler) when there are perfectly good French words to use instead. E-mail questions and official responses run in the right column of the site, under the words "Courrier des internautes." Great -- yet another way for me to waste valuable time on my obsessions.

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