French Friday: #motdièse

It was nearly five months ago when I wrote about the Forum mondial de la langue française – a gathering of great French-speaking leaders and thinkers to discuss the influx of foreign (read: English) words being used to describe technology and the internet. Public enemy number one on their list seemed to be Twitter and all of the unusual vocabulary it created. You can’t just tweet in French, they said. You have to gazouille (gazouiller = to chirp or babble).

Well, it took them awhile, but the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologisme has finally come up with a more “French” alternative to the hashtag. From now on, they insist, French speakers should say mot-dièse. It’s basically a literal translation. Mot = word and dièse = sharp (as in, the symbol to raise a pitch in musical notation).

There’s already been a lot of controversy over this new recommendation. For starters, many complain that the word dièse is not correct, it should be croisillon. There’s dièse –>  ♯  and then there’s croisillon –> #. It’s a subtle difference, but typographically, it’s significant. Dièse – the real dièse – is used exclusively in music. The horizontal parallel lines are actually drawn on a slant so as not to blend in with the lines on a musical staff. The lines on a croisillon are straight. But in general usage, the word dièse is much more common. You’ll often hear touche dièse (press pound) on a telephone voicemail menu. It’s never touche croisillon. At least, I’ve never heard it that way.

But perhaps the thing that makes mot-dièse most controversial is that the French people, the gazouilleurs themselves, don’t want to change. They’ve been saying hashtag (or more likely “ash-tag”) for six years already! Who wants to reinvent the wheel now? If changing the vocabulary of the internet was so important, maybe the language police should have gotten on top of this a little sooner?

I predict in five years from now they start insisting everyone call it “Livre de visage.”

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