We have never had so much new vocabulary come into play in a month. Many of the words can be used in both French and English, but there are a few cases where it is better not to mix them up. Here’s a selection of what we have noted. Do you speak the covid? Do you know the French nuances? Here’s a novlangue Covid Vocabulary list.
Rona, Coco or Kid Corona – nicknames for the coronavirus. It is important to name things when trying to deal with it. Naming things is a way to domesticate and control a situation. Americans use Quarn as a nickname for pour quarantine and the French Confifi for confinement.
La Covid-19 – Le Corona Virus – Watch out for the difference in genders! The Academie française – guardians of the language have decided that La Covid-19 is feminin because it is an acronym which stems from « maladie » a noun which is feminin. Le corona virus is « masculin » because the noun virus is masculin. Read more directly from the horse’s mouth.
Confinement – In English confinement is a word which refers to the period of time in which a woman is preparing to give birth. In our new vocabulary it is a French word referring not to a penal or monastic sentence as the usual French definition but to what the Americans call “lockdown”, “shelter-in-place” or being under “stay-a-home order”. “Déconfinement” is the next phase and is a neologism created by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on 1 April 2020. Hopefully le déconfinement won’t end up being une déconfiture.
“Lockdown” and “shelter-in-place” — terms that stem from preparedness for mass shootings in the United States. In the US “active shooter” drills are practiced alongside fire drills in schools and other places.
Social Distancing or Distanciation sociale – don’t forget that “i” after the “c” in French. It looks funny when you write it and adds and extra syllable (making 6!) but it keeps the soft “c” sound, without it the would would be pronounced distankation. The word “distanciation” has been part of the French language since 1959 as an acting technique. The actor reduces his and his characters stage presence so that the message he or she is delivering becomes the most important. Now it just means don’t get too close.
EHPAD – a fairly new (2002) French acronym pronounced eypahd in French, and often spelled as if it were a real word ehpad, previously called a nursing home, it stands for Etablissement d’hébergement pour personnes âgées dépendantes. By definition it is a retirement home with medical capacities for older people who can be autonomous or have chronic illnesses. In 2011 there were 7752 ehpads in France for a capacity of nearly 600,000 residents with 360,000 personnel.
L’AP-HP – on the news each night this mouthful is pronounced “lahpayahshpay” by the reporters. The Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux Parisiens, according to their site, is defined as the CHU of Ile de France. (Now we have to look up CHU… CHU stands for Centre hospitalier universitaire). L’AP-HP, created in 1849, is a network of 39 public hospitals who treat more than 8 million patients per year in a normal year and is the largest employer in the region. A huge BRAVO and Tenez bon! to our more than 100,000 caregivers, researchers, predictors, gurus, experts, teachers, medical students, paramedicals, administrators, technicians… of the AP-HP and other public and private medical establishments in France and the world.
Stop & go and Red light Green light – Names of childhood games, now related to our confinement. Is your department red or green? Can you do this or that? Stop or go? Lots of questions, hopefully not too much flip-flopping and everyone glued to the daily bulletin, a bit like watching the weather report.
Novel – the word novel is being used in a new way, which is not a new definition but just the forgotten use of the adjectival form of the word
Postillion – spit in English, not a new French word at all, but one that was not part of my vocabulary up until now and suddenly I use it every day. The Verb? Postilloner or To splutter!
Flattening – now used without “the curve” attached in the American press. We no longer have to explain what we are flattening. But some are also proposing to flatten the fear or crush the curve.
Superspreaders – (Super-contaminateurs en français). Parties or events that allow quick contamination of a group of people such as some church gatherings, carnivals and birthday parties that were held early in the pandemic – more or less the opposite of social distancing. Let’s hope this word doesn’t re-peak in everyday use.
Corona shake — Elbow bump, Wuhan Shake or foot shake (which personally seems a bit complicated to those less stable on their feet), folded hands of Namaste or wai thai, the Japanese bow, a wave, a smile, a nod, … New greetings to help us pass up handshakes, hugs, high fives, fist bumps and the famous bise
Skypéros – French for before dinner drinks or “Apéros” via Skype, On-nomi the Japanese equivalent which literally means “online drinking”, you might have a quarantini or coronarita in the USA. What clever term has the UK come up with for pubs online?
PPE – EPI – Respectively the acronyms for Personal Protective Equipment and Equipement de Protection Individuelle. Don’t inverse them or you’ll have Prime de Précarité pour L’Emploi or Equipment for PIs (aka detectives!)
Masks – no longer just for Halloween, Mardi Gras, sleeping, the Lone Ranger, Zorro or criminals. In fact now the good-guy is the one wearing a mask. Also called face coverings or in French EAP (Ecrans anti-postillons) or masques grand-public, masks are the in thing and for good reason. They protect the people around you. Be an altruist, get equipped and make your own washable covering. Here’s the pattern in English for the homemade EAP that meets French norms I’ve been adding nose wires to mine to help with mask fog. On the Afnor’s site you can also propose your services to sew masks. Here is a nicely done visual tutorial with guides in French, English and Spanish. The CDC also offers a face covering pattern that doesn’t need sewing, made from a T-shirt.
N95 – FFP2 – KN95 are respectively the American, European and Chinese norms for the most filtering types of medical masks which are reserved for health care professionals.
Charlotte – not just a given name, city or a cake, but a hair covering in French!
Spit-talker – no relation tot he WWI code-talkers. See Masks and Postillons
Lymphocytes – A type of white blood cell that comes in format B or T. We each need lots of these to beat this virus and develop herd immunity.
Test PCR – PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. This is the test done with a swab in the nose to see if genetic traces of the virus are present.
Herd immunity – or in French the less bovine “immunité de groupe”, also called in English herd effect, community immunity, population immunity. It can be propagated by vaccination (another bovine root) or passively. A social immunity very much desired but hard to achieve while social distancing.
Pangolin – same word in both French and English for a scaly anteater, an animal many of us have never heard or or seen, but dinner for some and in everyone’s vocabulary now.
Attestation – a French word for permission slip whereby we in France swear on our honor that we are going outside for an approved reason, specific time and specific distance. There are lots of grey areas as to what is authorized like riding your bike to the local farm that is 5km away for food and taking more than an hour. Nowhere does it say you can’t do this, but if you are stopped by the police they do their best to tell you you are out of bounds.
Infox – the French neologism for fake news or false information conjured up to to lead others astray
Personnes fragiles – in French are vulnerable people in English.
First necessity — term that designates the items and people necessary to protect and sustain life which we are authorized to go and purchase even when under lockdown. What is considered first necessity varies with the terrain. En France, les cigarettes et les jeux à gratter sont considérés comme première nécessité, pas les livres. In Berlin books were on the necessities lists. In the USA liquor and guns fit this category.
Gestes barrière – term that seems to be exclusively French (note that barrière does not take an “s”), I’m unable to find the English equivalent, the things everyone should do are listed for example on the CDC’s site but there is no blanket term for all these things in English as there is in French.
R0 — pronounced R-naught or r-Zero represents the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case. It’s the virus reproduction rate. In other words one sick person infects a certain number of additional persons. A smaller number is better. In France the number went from 3.3 to 0.5 during the confinement which is exactly the objective of lockdown. An R0 value of 1 or more means the virus is spreading. From one couple of rabbits (R0= 6 average litter) in a few months time you have thousands of rabbits.
Avoir la boule au ventre – Lots of people are using this expression to talk about their anxiety in going to work. In English it would be to have knots or butterflies in one’s stomach. I can understand them. It could feel indeed like a petanque ball in the gut – the imagery is right on. Funny thing is I can’t find the phrase in any dictionary or expression book. Is it a new expression? My Harraps offers these other expressions with ventre and boule: se mettre en boule, avoir la boule à zéro, faire boule de neige, avoir les boules, une boule de nerfs, ventre à terre, ne rien avoir dans le ventre, …
Covid Vocabulary list precursers
Collapsologist, Collapsologue in French – a person who believes that civilization will collapse or is already collapsing, often associated with Deep Green Resistance. Are they extra-lucid visionaries or sectarian survivalists? Not really a new idea, but it has become quite trendy.
Prepper – a person who believes a catastrophic disaster or emergency is likely to occur in the future and makes active preparations for it, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies. Again, not really a new idea, but certainly in the current news.
And a couple more just for fun
derived from Covid or Corona on the Covid Vocabulary list
Covidwalk – taking a walk during lockdown with people from another household respecting social distancing – not allowed in France
Cornonabonds – A possible way for European governments to collectively raise money. A bond is a share of debt placed on the market. By buying this voucher, public or private investors such as pension funds or insurance funds wait for the issuer to repay the amount borrowed (with interest). This is not a new mechanism, just a new name.
Covidiot – anyone who does not play the game fairly, ignores distancing, buys wantonly at the supermarket, goes out for no good reason
Cornonials – the generation born during this period to Millenial parents
Coronaspeck – Speck is a German word for fat or bacon. Coronaspeck refers thus to gaining weight during lockdown.
Prenez soin de vous,
FUSAC Covid Vocabulary list Team