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Toubon Law


In France, it is officially forbidden to refer to a “crossover” vehicle. The government-sanctioned term is “vehicule metis” — which literally means “mixed-race vehicle,” reports David Pearson in The Wall Street Journal (4/4/07). Furthermore, a “city car” must be referred to as a “citadine” and a minivan as a “monospace.” Unless you want to run afoul of France’s Culture Minister, do not say “anti-lock braking system.” The proper phrase is “anti-blocage de securite.” Relax — it’s still okay to shorten things up and say “ABS.” But if it’s fuel injection of which you speak, the correct term is “rampe commune a haute pression.” Accents not included.

This may sound silly to you, but it is serious business in France, where, having solved all other problems, the government wants to purge English-language terms from its vernacular. The effort actually dates back to 1994, “when Jacques Toubon, Culture Minister, set up 18 commissions to weed out Anglo intrusions into the French language that were threatening to pollute its purity.” Yes, 18 commissions, based on the Toubon law. It’s not only the automotive business where Americanisms are invading the language, but also the oil and gas, telecommunications, information technology, nuclear, chemical and engineering industries. Terms that offend “are published in an official gazette once or twice a year.”

It’s not as though you face jail time if you refer to a “salle d’exposition” as “showroom,” however. “Legally, there’s no obligation to use the approved terms,” says Isabelle Hugues, who oversees terminology in the economic and financial sectors. “What we’re trying to do is encourage people to substitute French terms for non-French ones, with the administration showing the example.” But the rules are very strict indeed for government officials and are enforced in the wording of government contracts. David Warren, a Chrysler salesman in France, says he supports the concept but is not about to correct his non-compliant customers. “I’m not going to contradict them,” he says. Smart man. Unfortunately, there’s no “email address” for complaints about these rules … but of course there is a “courriel.” ~ Tim Manners, editor