My Two Cents: France taking its language way too seriously…again

As readers of this column may have noticed, I take great pleasure in lampooning the arrogant but largely inconsequential nation of France. Not surprisingly, France has recently provided me with more ammunition with which to continue my campaign of ridicule.

The linguistically sensitive French – still smarting from America’s taking the word “croissant” and turning it into “croissandwich” – are banning the term “e-mail” in all government ministries, documents, publications and Websites.

This is France’s latest attempt to stem an incursion of English words into the oh-so-precious French lexicon. (Historically speaking, France has often been powerless to stop incursions of any kind, as in 1940 when uninvited guest Nazi Germany made itself at home.)

France’s linguistic xenophobia is such that the country actually has a General Commission on Terminology and Neology, which insists that Internet surfers in the nation are using the word “courriel,” a fusion of the two words “courrier electronique” (electronic mail).

“Evocative, with a very French sound, the word ‘courriel’ is broadly used in the press and competes advantageously with the borrowed ‘mail’ in English,” the commission said, no doubt in a snooty, pretentious accent.

The problem, of course, is that this is not true, as several Internet industry experts have said, pointing out that because of the global nature of e-mail there is a lot of language assimilation.

For example, here in America, many of the words we use are taken outright or derived from other languages – including French – and yet our government doesn’t waste valuable resources on this non-problem, preferring instead to waste taxpayer money in more creative ways.

And why? Because we Americans aren’t so stuck up as to think our version of English is God’s gift to syntax. In fact, some Americans are taking steps to make English more accessible. The Judicial Council of California has adopted a new set of rules – after a six-year effort – to do away with complex legal mumbo jumbo in favor of straight-forward instructions to jurors.

France should adopt California’s laid-back attitude when it comes to language. Does anyone know how you say, “Lighten up!” in French?

“My Two Cents” is a weekly column, where the author gets in his two cents worth in spite of the old saying that you only get a penny for your thoughts.