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The French you don’t learn at school: When a zèbre is not a zèbre?

Did you know that the French word ‘zèbre’ does not just refer to the striped animal anymore? We look at some of the 170 new words that made it into le Petit Larousse’s 2022 edition

Such is the evolutionary nature of languages – and French is not ‘l’exception’ – that there are many words which those of us of a certain vintage could not possibly have learned at school, simply because they did not exist then.

Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the ever-changing list of les mots français that comprise le Petit Larousse dictionary. 

170 newbies made their way into the 2022 edition recently, many reflecting changes and trends in broader society. [Jab centre 'vaccinodrome' and 'antivax', for instance, could not be more contemporary]. 

Here are a few charming and intriguing additions to the French language over the last couple of years.

Bobologie is a cute word to describe the act of administering treatment of minor injuries – it stems from the word bobo, used by children or parents of youngsters to describe a minor graze or bump.

Live in a part of town where trendies are driving house prices up and flat whites are replacing cafés au lait? Your area is likely a victim (or beneficiary, depending on your stance) of ‘l’hipstérisation’.

Consider yourself laidback, with a laissez-faire approach to life? You epitomise “coolitude”, defined as a “state of relaxation, of calm, often conducive to tolerant behaviour”. 

Here’s one for the online era, with a nod to francophone Africa: a brouteur is an internet scammer, especially on social networks (fake accounts making false pleas for help). It originated in the Ivory Coast, where a brouteur is a sheep that “effortlessly grazes”.

Lastly, since 2021, un zèbre does not merely describe a striped Savannah-roamer. It also means a gifted child.

The term 'zèbre' was introduced by Jeanne Siaud-Facchin, a clinical psychologist and author of ‘Trop intelligent pour être heureux?’ (Odile Jacob, 2008). Once called 'gifted', the author chose a substitute term to soften the difference experienced by children with high intellectual potential. 

This article first appeared in the August/September 2021 edition of The Connexion

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