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Discover unused French words removed from dictionary and lost in time

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘chape-chute’ or the verb ‘monseigneuriser’? These old-fashioned words have been deemed to have fallen out of common usage

Académie Française lists outmoded words and officially removes them from dictionaries Pic: Dragon One / Shutterstock

We concern ourselves so often in this column with new words that infiltrate la langue française – for better or worse – that we tend to ignore those poor, unloved vocabulary gems from yesteryear that have fallen out of favour.

Indeed, some mots are so outmoded that the Académie Française officially lists them as defunct and they disappear forever from dictionaries. 

Some are unsurprisingly sidelined as they belong in another era, yet are full of charm nonetheless: we give you “Monseigneuriser” – the verb used to honour someone with the title Monseigneur; and then there is “chape-chute” – a good opportunity for one person following the misadventure of another. A surprising removal as it still seems pertinent somehow – the world is no less ‘dog eat dog’.

Another word that is out of favour, though not officially off-limits as far as we can tell, is the delightful “Croque-notes”, a satisfying word used to describe a musician’s lack of talent. The Trésor de la langue française gives a rather scathing definition: “poor musician without talent”, “a musician who performs easily, but without expression and without taste”.

Talking of ear problems, the French for ‘deaf as a post’ is ‘sourd comme un pot’ - which, depending on whose etymological source you believe, may either come from a truncated version of the English – un poteau (post) here being reduced to un pot or, more delightfully, “sourd comme un pot à anses”. The anses are the handles on a pot such as a garden urn or planter, which resemble ears. Being made of terre cuite (terracotta), they are incapable of hearing.

Hard of hearing is simply translated in French as “malentendant’.

Related stories:

Entre la poire et le fromage and more French cheese phrases

Valentine’s Day: How best to express your love in French

Un vieux routier and other French ‘old’ expressions

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