Last week, I took issue with Rob Wile of Business Insider who believes we refuse to embrace new loanwords. He listed nine French words and expressions that English “needs.” We’ve already looked at two of these — saloperie (the act of a jack-ass) and droit à l’oubli (the right to oblivion).
Let’s see what the remaining seven French terms have to offer (definitions in parentheses are Wile’s):
• Diaboliser (to label something or someone inherently bad). The English equivalent is “demonize” although we also already use “diabolize.”
• Dépayser (to feel displaced from one’s native land or familiar routine). French dictionaries define this verb as, “to disorient.” As well as disorient, English also has, “to alienate.”
• Déontologie (an informal but widely used set of rules for a profession). Defined in my Larousse Dictionnaire as, “professional ethics,” this word in English is known as, “standards,” or, “code of ethics.”
• Laicité (separation of church and state). French dictionaries identify laicité as “secularity.” In English, we also have both “laic” and “laity.”
• Trouvaille (something awesome discovered by chance). Larousse’s definition differs. There’s no mention of either awe or accident. This source merely says, “find; discovery.” Merriam-Webster’s French-English Dictionary defines trouvaille as, “find; inspiration; brainstorm.”
• Décomplexé (pure; sure of oneself; lacking neurotic hang-ups or socio-cultural pressure). The already existent English words, “stability,” “composure,” “self-confidence,” and, “poise,” say the same things. Larousse doesn’t even list décomplexé.
• The final term, mise en abyme is defined by Wile as, “When standing between two mirrors you see an infinite regression of yourself.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally never needed a word to describe what I might see should I ever stand between two mirrors. This phrase has additional problems. It isn’t in Larousse, Merriam-Webster, or Cassell’s New French Dictionary. Neither is abyme in dictionaries although mise is listed. Mise is the feminine noun meaning, “putting; placing.” It’s also the past participle of the verb, mettre (to put). No French dictionary lists mise en abyme or anything approaching it.
As well, Wile’s list contains several terms that we’ve already borrowed. His diaboliser is our “diabolize,” which has been in English since 1754.
Laic, or, as Wile would have it, laicité, is yet older. This word entered English in 1491. We took it from Latin, as did the French themselves in 1560. “Laity” and “layman” are related words.
Wile’s most astonishing idea is that English is hesitant re borrowing. We know that isn’t true. When English lacks a way of saying something, there are no qualms about lifting a word from another language although, often, the borrowed word is modified to suit English pronunciation. For example, we seldom retain accents.
English, unlike French, has never been a protected language. L’Académie français, established in 1631, actively tries to prevent Anglicization of French and bans most English loanwords. Such loans never appear in French dictionaries although scores of French speakers ignore the bans. There’s never been any equivalent to l’Académie to protect English.
To put it briefly, Rob Wile’s article is mostly rubbish. In French, that’s le débris.