"E-mail?!?" Fermez ta bouche!


The French Academy has determined that the English term "e-mail" shall be strictly interdit in government documents, despite being the term in common use for those bits of text folks send back and forth. The new, approved term is courriel. An informal check by Eugene Volokh indicates that "e-mail" is about 21 times more prevalent than "courriel" on French websites.

You'd think that a group of academics as convinced as the Academy of their culture's inherent superiority wouldn't feel so very threatened by a couple of borrowed phrases. After all, we may have gone a little goofy yanking "french fries" off our restaurant menus, but, to borrow a quip from Clay Shirky, at least we still called them restaurants and menus. For what it's worth, I'm rather fond of the compromise solution we Spaniards came up with: "emilio."

NEXT: Central Planning

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  1. Gosh, as much as I enjoy making fun of the French (I have nothing against them, they’re just fun to make fun of), I have a hard time feeling superior to them over the willful stagnation of their language as long as we’re still using the English system of measurements.

    16 ounces to the pound, 16 ounces to the gallon…or is it 32 to the quart, so 128 to the gallon? And a mile is how many feet? Who knows?

  2. yeah, and this ridiculous time system too. 60 seconds in a minute, 60 hours in a day, or is it 24? I always forget. Somwhere between 28 and 31 days in a month, except for every fourth year, unless it ends in 00, but not those that end in 00 divisible by four. Who can keep up?

    I say we go to metric time like the french. And let’s get rid of those damn pennies too. Math is hard.

  3. “A pint’s a pound, the world around.”

    Sadly, a Pint is now more like 2 Pounds Sterling at your local pub.

  4. Even funnier than the French academy, is French Canada. The quaint, archaic, French-speaking culture is constantly being assaulted by a thriving English speaking economy, (fueled by U.S. corporations) threatening to drive them into extinction. French Canada fights to maintain it’s existence by codifying into law linguistic rules so parochial, they’d give migraines to a schoolmarm. Maximum entertainment is to be found in the rhetoric spewed every generation or so when the Quebec Independence movement gains momentum.

  5. I say if someone ever puts a foot up your ass, be thankful it wasn’t a meter.

  6. Oh, well. You can’t spell courriel without a C, a U, and an L…

  7. Whenever I’m regaled about the need to adopt English as the national language, I respond with “Official Language? What is this – France!?!”

    The sort of people who regale others about the need to make English the official language often respond in amusing ways.

  8. Like Quebec’s economy isn’t thriving? The density of high tech industries in Montreal is truly amazing. Furthermore, given the official discrimination practiced by the English government for most of Canada’s history against French-speakers in Canada, it is not surprising that Quebecois would not be too keen to meet English-speaking Canada with open arms. I also wonder why its considered such a sin for a culture to protect itself when it can, especially when said individuals of that culture value what they consider its virtues.

    As far as the metric system is concerned, it is a far more rational, if by that we mean effecient, system of measurement than the English system which has been abandoned by England. Which is of course why its so readily used in American laboratories.

    BTW, as the write-up states, this applies only to the French government; why people go apoplectic over that I cannot say. However, it is no different, to be frank, from state governments requiring that individuals take tests not in their native tongue, but English, and the like. When the folks here at so-called “Reason” begin to castigate state governments’ for such actions, I’ll stop suspecting that an irrational, largely ignorant and uninformed anti-French bias exists here.

  9. Joe:

    AWESOME! Mind if I use it some time?

  10. Seems some posters have confused “metric” with “decimal”. Civil engineers and surveyors have been using a decimalized version of the Imperial System for over a century now. For carpenters and other tradesmen the English system of inches and fractions is much more rational. Almost any mathmetician will tell you it is much more precise to divide into a series of halves than into tenths. Tenths are just more convenient to perform arithmetic operations with.

  11. “I also wonder why its considered such a sin for a culture to protect itself when it can”

    But, isn’t that xenophobic, bigoted racism?

    As for coriel (“CORYel”), I think we should use it instead of email just to piss them off.

  12. Unless it was deliberate, “Fermez ta bouche” is incorrect, but it’s no big deal – really: contrary to popular belief, the French love it when people try to speak their language and even play with it (as least I do.)

    No matter what, the truth is that courriel is a charming French-Canadian invention, just as pourriel (=spam, contraction of the adjective pourri=rotten and courriel=e-mail) It sounds much nicer but than “e-mail,” and perhaps a little bit less high-tech. Which is fine, since many French people still consider e-mail like regular mail and take 5 weeks to answer!

    Still, I don’t think it’s necessary to add a dramatic twist to the story with mention that the English term “e-mail” “shall be strictly interdit”. Nobody will ever be guillotined for lazily using an English word in a conversation or in an official document instead of the French equivalent. A radio station in Paris has a show called “Good morning business” (the title is in English) which is pretty ridiculous but the radio hasn’t been slapped with a fine or arrested by the language police. Now this would be a good story.

    Anyway, glad these little stories from France keep people entertained!

  13. Metric Dan, What’s wrong with using a sexagesimal system with a base-60 notation for timekeeping that was created 4000 years ago?

  14. Actually, I don’t think the French went far enough. Banning the use of a word is too superficial. They need to go much deeper than that to eliminate American influence on their culture.

    The Internet was developed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a means to protect military computer systems from attack. Its release to the rest of the world is, therefore, clearly an attempt to extend American militaristic hegemony over the unwitting citizens and governments of other nations.

    There is only one solution: The French must completely ban use of the Internet in any government operations. Only then can they be safe from corrupt foreign influences.

  15. Cro-
    The analogy to state governments deciding tests must be taken in English is not apt. First, there are cost reasons to want to limit the number of languages state officials must be prepared to operate in, and (more importantly), that sort of thing is a reflection of the fact that most Americans already speak English, not an attempt to change the culture. I wouldn’t have said a thing if it were just that they needed to pick a term among several prevalent ones… it’s that the decision flies in the face of popular usage and reflects a xenophobic terror of borrowed words. I would and did make fun of our government over things like the preposterous “freeodm fries” business, even though it involved menus at government cafeterias, which they’re certainly within their rights, at least, to draw up.

  16. Madog,



    You are correct. The standard in laboratory research worldwide, including the US, is metric (except for time, but this will soon change). Therefore, everyone should use metric. The standard language of communicating scientific discovery is english. Therefore, everyone should use english. Ban the English system and every language that isn’t english, NOW.

  17. “that sort of thing is a reflection of the fact that most Americans already speak English, not an attempt to change the culture.”

    Don’t believe him, Cro. The people who, ah, crow the loudest about these regulations make it perfectly clear that they’re protecting ‘Murrica’s culture by resisting the use of other languages in the public realm.

    Keith – you might also try asking why we should enshrine our former colonial European overlord’s culture in our laws. I’ve got nothing against the English, but come on… This is a free country, and the government should adapt itself to the people, not vice-versa.

  18. They must have got this idea from a Quebec language cop. Jeez

  19. greetings:

    nothing is wrong with having a language reserved for legal purposes (langue de jure or something like that). as for schools, the german school in potomac, MD is perfectly legal in the US)

    the regulation of language in quebec is actually much stricter than in the us. so, croesus, appreciating your wariness of (misunderstood/ ingorant) francophobia, your interpretation above does need a few tweaks. and heise.de/newsticker/data/jk-02.07.00-002/ is the story of french in quebec as picked up by a german newspaper — even they think this is a bit much.

    while canada’s regulations are oft misunderstood or misinterpreted (private communication is NOT, *NOT* regulated one bit, see below), these laws are much more restrictive than any us law out there. And, the more restrictive parts of the original Law, 101 from the 70s, have been struck down.

    for quebec language stuff:

    oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/english/regulations/reg_predominant.html (rules for commerce. these do not exist in the US. viz: “little korea” or such)


    (including: “58. Public signs and posters and commercial advertising must be in French.

    They may also be both in French and in another language provided that French is markedly predominant.

    However, the Government may determine , by regulation, the places, cases, conditions or circumstances where public signs and posters and commercial advertising must be in French only, where French need not be predominant or where such signs, posters and advertising may be in another language only.”)

    HOWEVER!!!!! note in the FAQ section: (oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/english/infoguides/faqs/faqs_anglais.html#r2)
    “2. Is there a law requiring the use of French on a personal home page?

    No. The law is not aimed at non-commercial messages. For instance,
    Web sites dealing with political or ideological matters are entirely exempted.”

    for computer types from FAQ # 6:
    “Under section 52.1 of the Charter of the French Language, whenever a French version of a software exists on the market, retailers cannot carry any other version unless he carries also the French version of that software”

    and some sob stories:


  20. drf: A business in Quebec recently had to spend several thousand dollars replacing their business software because it was not French language based. The article can be found on canoe.ca. Quebec’s language laws are fascist. PERIOD.

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