new-words-in-french

Enchanté! Introduce Yourself to 8 Brand New Words in French

I just finished reading a ginormous book.

Last week I ate a ginormous sundae.

The Eiffel Tower is ginormous!

Merriam-Webster started including “ginormous,” a combination of “gigantic” and “enormous,” in their dictionaries in 2007. It’s just one example of how language is living and constantly evolving.

Whether it’s slang for a new generation, a historical turning point or a scientific discovery, there are always opportunities for new words to spring up.

So don’t let your French vocabulary get dusty and worn.

Make sure to incorporate new words in French so that you can keep up with the native speakers.

We’ll introduce you to eight words that’ve recently become common among French speakers—including informal terms, funny phrases, business words and more.
 


 
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Which New Words Make the Cut?

Have you ever made up a word?

Perhaps it was a conglomerate of words you smushed together or even a silly, completely unique-sounding word.

However, as you know, getting a word in an official dictionary isn’t that simple.

One major requirement is that a word be widely used and recognized. For a slang or informal word, this could involve hits on social media and blogs. Being used in books or news articles is also helpful.

Many words are established after increasing use in everyday speech. For example in English, the word “ginormous” proved its staying power through use in daily conversation, as well as its inclusion in newspaper articles.

Other words have their origins in new science and technology. A word might refer to a new invention, a newly discovered disease (hopefully not) or a new technological concept. Think of English words such as “Apple” and “troll,” which these days mean much more than a piece of fruit or a bridge-dwelling mythical creature.

Interestingly, some new words form in response to historical events. Did you know, for instance, that the term “genocide” didn’t exist before the Holocaust?

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We’ve looked at how some English words have formed, but you may still be wondering how big of a difference new words make, especially in French. To give you a tangible idea, Larousse, a major French dictionary, incorporates 150 new words every year.

Of course, not all of these words are common in average French conversation. Many are more specialized words (such as legal or medical) that only people in certain professions would employ on a regular basis.

The statistic, nevertheless, gives you a picture of the impact new words can have on a language.

Enchanté! Introduce Yourself to 8 Brand New Words in French

new-words-in-french

The eight words below are a great starting point, but there will always be newer and newer French words to learn. FluentU is one of the best tools to stay on top of the latest vocabulary, because it teaches you French through real-world videos—like movie trailers, clips from famous YouTubers, news interviews, commercials and more.

The best part is you don’t need to go running to a French friend for help whenever you hear a new word. There are interactive subtitles, so you can click any word for an instant, in-context definition. There are also professionally translated English captions that you can toggle on or off.

Built-in flashcards and fun quizzes for every video will make sure you remember everything you’ve learned. It’s a fun way to absorb today’s French as native speakers actually use it—without ever worrying about missing a word.

Présentiel(le)

This one comes from the field of higher education. Most universities today offer both on-campus and distance learning programs, giving students options between taking classes in-person or studying online. Some institutions might offer a combination of both methods.

Présentiel(le) comes from la presence (presence) and refers to studying in a physical classroom, “face-to-face” with other students.

Depending on context, this word would probably be translated as “on-campus” or “classroom-based.”

Elle a choisi une formation présentielle parce qu’elle aime discuter avec les autres étudiants. (She chose classroom-based training because she likes to discuss with the other students.)

By contrast, French often employs the term “e-learning” (sound familiar?) to denote an online program of study or “distance learning.”

To see an example of présentiel used “in the wild,” check out this French article about the pros and cons of online and classroom-based learning.

Avoir la Patate

Do you like potatoes? Do you feel good when you have one? I certainly do.

If those questions seemed peculiar to you, get ready for our next new French saying: avoir la patate, which literally means “to have the potato.”

What it actually means is “to feel well.” No, this isn’t a reference to a potato’s nutritional value.

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If you’re deeply curious, The Local (a British news outlet) has a discussion on this saying and its possible origins.

“Feeling well” can be quite vague. Most often, this expression has to do with emotional wellness—being in a good mood, being up to the task.

J’ai dormi très bien hier soir et j’ai la patate(I slept very well last night and feel great.)

Keep in mind that this saying may also be employed in the negative, meaning “feeling unwell.”

Cet après-midi était si pressé! Je n’ai pas la patate et ne veux pas sortir ce soir. (This afternoon was so busy! I’m not feeling well and don’t want to go out this evening.)

S’Ambiancer

This fascinating new verb comes from African French. It belongs to the family of French verbs about partying or celebrating.

As you may have noticed, this word is related to ambiance (atmosphere) and connotes a positive, joyful atmosphere.

On s’est ambiancé chez Marc hier soir. (We celebrated at Mark’s last night.)

Some similar words might be célébrer (to celebrate) and faire la fête (to party), as seen in the French version of “Be Our Guest” in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Seul(e) en Scène

Literally “alone on stage,” this handy phrase is the French version of a “one-man/one-woman show.”

The idea is essentially the same as the English equivalent. It refers to a show or performance put on by a single person. This form of drama is common among stand-up comedians.

Il est content parce qu’il a vu un seul en scène tellement drôle la semaine dernière. (He is happy because he saw a really funny one-man-show last week.)

You may also employ seul en scène as an adjective for a solo performer, as in une actrice seule en scène (a solo actress). Note that one adds an “-e” when the phrase refers to a woman.

An example of this phrase can be found in this French article about studying plays under the discussion of monologues (the French is the same word).

Covoiturer

This is another new verb for an act you’ve probably done at some point. Have you ever shared a car with someone?

Covoiturage, a combination of co (a prefix meaning “with”) and voiture (car), is the French version of carpooling. Covoiturer is simply the verb form.

Tu veux covoiturer à Paris? (Do you want to carpool to Paris?)

Although the concept has certainly existed for a long time, the development of this specific term could be connected with the French startup BlaBlaCar.

You can see how their site makes use of the term covoiturage (carpooling) and displays a bumper sticker that reads, Je covoiture avec BlaBlaCar. (I carpool with BlaBlaCar.)

The idea is to connect people traveling across Europe so that they can ride together and split the travel costs.

Économie Collaborative/de Partage

This term has two forms: économie collaborative, literally meaning “collaborative economy” or économie de partage, translated as “economy of sharing.”

As the phrases imply, the concept can be a bit complicated to explain.

If you really want to get into the muck and muddle of économie collaborative feel free to read about it in this French article. But some basic examples of businesses following this model include tech startups like Airbnb and BlaBlaCar, as well as simpler examples such as a thrift store.

The basic principle of this business model is the idea of sharing services or products. For instance, in the case of BlaBlaCar, people share a car and split the cost of gas.

L’économie collaborative aide la société en créant les liens personnels. (The collaborative economy helps society by creating personal connections.)

Bistronomie

Given the French reputation for fine cuisine, this list wouldn’t be complete without a culinary example.

This word is a good illustration of how new words often form.

Bistronomie is a combination of the existing words gastronomie (gastronomy) and bistrot (bistro).

Essentially, gastronomie refers to high-quality restaurant foodBistrot, like bistro, generally describes a more informal (and often less expensive) dining experience.

Thus, bistronomie further reflects economic factors in that it describes food that’s fresh and well-made, while being affordable. The idea is to provide quality at a good price, a deal that always pleases customers.

Bistronomie also relates to the restaurant’s atmosphere. Instead of candles and a grand piano, a “bistronomic” restaurant, often small and local, probably has a simpler and perhaps country atmosphere.

I know. This word can seem a bit vague and abstract. You can find a definition in French here as well as a list of restaurants in France that are considered examples of bistronomie.

J’ai trouvé un excellent restaurant près de chez moi. Les repas sont délicieux mais bon marché aussi. C’est de la bistronomie(I found an excellent restaurant near me. The meals are delicious, but also inexpensive. It’s bistronomic.)

There isn’t exactly a one-word English equivalent, which is why for the purposes of the sentence above de la bistronomie is simply translated with an anglicized version: “bistronomic.”

Choupinet

We saved a fun one for last! It’s also another one that doesn’t have a direct English equivalent.

However, the concept isn’t difficult and it’s one you’ve probably had at least some experience with.

Choupinet is a term of endearment, meaning it’s the kind of thing you might say to a small child, your beloved, that cute animal at the zoo…

As such, there are many possible translations, from “sweetie” to “pumpkin.”

Ta journée est-elle bien passée, choupinet? (Did your day go well, honey?)

As the French-English dictionary Reverso explains, “saying it in a tender voice will give you more credibility.”

 

Well, choupinet, that’s all the new words in French for today.

But don’t worry. French is a living, evolving language and there’s always something new to learn.

That’s not to say that fluency is unattainable, but as you grow in your language skills, you’ll discover that it’s a journey which never truly ends.


Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

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