Who hasn’t consulted the illustrated and illustrious pages of a Dictionary Larousse; the ubiquitous reference book first published in 1905 reportedly sells one volume in France every minute, amounting to over half a million copies annually.
But what do we know about the man behind the dictionary?
Here then are a few words (pun intended) about Monsieur Larousse who will turn 200 years old this year.
He was born on October 23, 1817 in the sleepy town of Toucy in the Yonne department, making him a toucyçois for those interested in demonyms.
His father was a wheelwright smith; his mother an innkeeper. An excellent student, Larousse went to Versailles at the age of 16 for higher education. He was already on track to becoming a teacher, editor, encyclopedist and most importantly, lexicographer. His friends referred to him not as “wordsmithy” but as “the librarian”. He set up an eponymous publishing house in Paris, wanting to know everything about everything. His appetite for learning was voracious.
In 1856 he published Le Nouveau Dictionnaire de la langue française, ancestor of Le Petit Larousse. His major work, however, was Le Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIX siècle, a work of 15 volumes — 22700 pages — which took him 11 years to write. Larousse died in 1875 and is buried in the Paris’s Montparnasse cemetery, section 14 (n° 36 on the free guide available at the entrance). In honor of his accomplishments, there is a monument in Toucy’s town center, a street named after him in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, schools in several cities and a 40 centime postage stamp issued in 1968 to mark his sesquicentennial.
Today Le Petit Larousse Illustré, commonly known simply as Le Petit Larousse, is a cultural monument of the French-language. The one-volume work has two main sections: a dictionary featuring common words and an encyclopedia of proper names. Le Petit Larousse 2018 (published in 2017) includes 63,200 definitions and more than 10,000 illustrations. Larousse’s motto, Je sème à tout vent (“I sow to all winds”) is perpetuated in Larousse’s publications and inspires the cover art of the dictionary which typically features a female figure blowing dandelion seeds (akènes in French) to the wind.
the only book worth having if marooned on a desert island
Dictionary Larousse New Words & New Faces
Every year the Dictionary Larousse, (the only book worth having if marooned on a desert island according to Jean d’Ormesson, spokesman for the 2017 edition) introduces 150 new words and 50 proper names. It takes a team of 40 experts to do the sorting.
What are the criteria of selection (among approximately 3000 candidates) for these “happy few” words? Basically two : quantity or frequency of use – you have to hear it a lot — and quality. Quality ties into the notion of shared use of a word across professions. The word breaks the jargon barrier to spread across different fields and occupations.
Let’s have a look, topic by topic, at some of the new words.
The world of economics and society is particularly fond of new terms. The word ubérisation (remise en cause du modèle économique d’une entreprise ou d’un secteur d’activité par l’arrivée d’un nouvel acteur proposant les mêmes services à des prix moindres) is introduced at the same time as Fonds vautour (fonds d’investissement spécialisé dans le rachat à bas prix des dettes de l’État ou d’entreprises en difficulté). Also in the new edition, we find the adjective Disruptive defined as a company, a product, a concept that creates a real rupture within a sector of activity by radically renewing its functioning. The adjective autoréalisateur describes a prediction that influences behaviors so that what is predicted eventually happens!
Another words for the times we live in? Génération boomerang : A word coined by the media to describe the current generation of young adults (roughly ages 18-35) who still live at home with their parents and are not financially independent. The word “boomerang” implies that the kids come back home from college or elsewhere to live with their parents after not being able to support themselves financially in the real world. Or hors-sol, noun and invariable adjective: person or group completely disconnected from realities and constraints.
This year, we also find e-sport, gameur, hipster, souplex (duplex basement), spoiler — when the plot does not thicken…
Other newcomers: droit-de-l’hommisme ; hacktivisme (mixture of hacker and activism); storytelling (political communication, marketing or managerial technique that promotes an idea, a product, a brand); Dazibao, kamishibaï (from Japanese paper theater); showcase ; matinalier — journalist presenting a morning session on radio or television); déradicalisation; infobésite (information et obesity).
Computer language has given us dématérialisé, gif or GIF and phablette (combining phone and tablet).
New culinary and gastronomic trends are ever present, including kale and teriyaki — a Japanese word describing a way of preparing food.
The same goes for environmental issues: permaculture, a mode of agriculture based on principles of sustainable development; épisode cévenol (phenomenon characterized by continuous heavy rains falling in autumn on the Cévennes massif.
The francophone world provides its usual lot of new terms. The Island of the Reunion is in the spotlight this year with barachois (shallow cirque), boucané (smoked meat) and barreauder (to make a fence using bars).
Finally, in the current or regional register we find a dose of humor. The 2018 Larousse edition welcomes bisounours noun and invariable adjective often used pejoratively to describe a person of great naiveté. Or rouméguer (from south-west France), for someone expressing displeasure. Aren’t there already enough words to describe complaining ? Je râle!
The writer Jean-Christophe Rufin had already become immortal by being elected to the French Academy in 2008. He is even more so now by entering the sacrosanct Petit Larousse. His “class” of 2018 is of high quality: the filmmakers Olivier Assayas and John Carpenter, the philosopher Étienne Balibar; The writers Boualem Sansal, Alain Mabanckou, Richard Ford and Marie Darrieussecq, the historian Michel Winock; the actors Morgan Freeman, Catherine Frot; Stanley Lieber, American comic book writer and publisher, and Cosey, the “little” Frenchman; the couturier Emmanuel Ungaro, the singer Véronique Sanson, the star ballerina Aurélie Dupont, the soprano Patricia Petitbon who already has an asteroid named in her honor! Last but not least: Emmanuel Macron.