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Dictionary Watching

In his strange, prognosticative novel Paris au XXe Siècle (Paris in the Twentieth Century, 1863), Jules Verne prophesied that French would be overrun by scientific words, mostly taken from English and other languages. While this is certainly true in colloquial French today, the vigilance of the guardians of the French language never wavers. A short article (Les nouveaux mots des dictionnaires 2004, September 2) in Le Nouvel Observateur reviews the new words officially accepted by the Petit Larousse and the Petit Robert in their upcoming editions, noticing in particular the growth of computer-related words. My favorite is pourriel (courrier électronique envahi de publicité qui ira à la corbeille, "electronic mail invaded by advertisements which will go to the wastebasket," or spam), which first appeared among computer users in Québec. It is a contraction of poubelle (trash can or trash) and courriel (the not very popular word for e-mail, a contraction of courrier électronique, electronic mail). To me at least it also recalls the adjective/participle pourri, spoiled or rotten. These are different and in some ways more satisfying connotations than those of spam in English, something that is a sad and disgusting imitation of the real thing and that is used in a mass-distributed way.

This post was intended to be published yesterday but could not be, due to troubles at Blogger. Sorry about that. One word of thanks to Terry Teachout, for including a link to Ionarts on his ArtsJournal blog About Last Night (essential reading).

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