After a decade or more during which email became the generally accepted term for an electronic message, the French decided to invent their own word. Perhaps because it’s so close to the word ‘émail’, which means enamel, although the pronunciation is completely different (eh-my). In the meantime, 99% of the French population had already adopted the English word into their daily vocabulary, mostly commonly using just ‘mail.’ For example: “Envoyez-moi un mail pour confirmer.”
This was not so unusual. The French often adopt English words directly into their language — they’re somewhat less paranoid and protectionist than their French Canadian cousins. They also hijack English words and invent their own meanings for them, resulting in a hybrid dialect of franglais (to which I’ll devote a future post.)
Common anglicisms used in France today include, as just a small sampling: weekend, hot dog, parking, shampooing, Kleenex, Black. French friends are welcome to add your favorite (or most detested) examples to this list in the comments.
Once a habit is taken up by the French, bonne chance trying to change it. In 2003, the powers that be tried adopting the Québec French word, ‘courriel’, but have had trouble making it stick.
Not long ago I discovered that my name had been conscripted by the Académie Française.
The Académie Française is that most illustrious of institutions whose raison d’être is to officiate over the French language. Its 40 members are appointed for life (not necessarily that long as most are appointed at an advanced age). This body of sages decides which words can officially be added to the dictionary, and which ones should be banned. Seems they decided an official abbreviation was needed to designate the email address in footers, business cards, etc. Similar to ‘tél’ for telephone, they came up with mél, a contraction of message and électronique.
It’s been years since I adopted the use of my initials as a nickname. I started signing my name as ‘MEL’ rather than my full moniker, and at some point I became Mel. I’ve gotten used to being called by different names: Madame, Mom, Maman, (sometimes also ‘casse pieds’, but that’s a different story). Also, various pronunciations of Mel – from Mail to Melle. Now it seems that it’s officially mél.
With this blog post, I would like to officially lodge a copyright infringement complaint with the Académie Française.
I have been Mel in this country since 1992. I, too, am abbreviated (5’2”). I, too, have an accent (encore et toujours).
So please, can I have my name back?