Thursday, January 24, 2013

Word of the Day: “pipolade” (bis)

Repeatedly disappointed by Le Monde, I switched to daily checking of Le Figaro instead.   It often reports news of interest that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere --  things the Left abjures, because politically-incorrect, and which the American Right abjures, because their knowledge of and interest in Abroad is limited to occasionally peering across the Bering Strait (“Russia … You can see it from here,” in the words of one of the Republicans’ senior stateswomen).  Additionally, the readers’ comments tend to be quite literate and witty, and lend themselves to quotation to illustrate new usages in the ever-evolving French tongue.

However, just as a subscription to the print edition of the Sunday New York Times (which I maintain, years after having moved out of the Northeast) inevitably brings with it, wrapped inside more serious sections like a dogturd in a pooper-scooper bag, the egregious, the ineffable “Style” section, addressed to the mindless with too much money (and which must be extracted with tweezers, while wearing elbow-length plastic gloves),  so subscription to the Figaro newsletter brings with it the bling-bling scraps & scrapings from its gynecocentric supplement, Madame Figaro.
Yet today, the thumbnail come-on offered a new word I’d never seen:   pipolade.

Tranches de pipolade
Jude Law, Madonna, Brad Pitt... Ce que les people nous ont fait savoir cette semaine... et dont on aurait très bien pu se passer.

You can view the word in action here, if you don’t mind a spot of brain-damage:
(Well, let us not be too harsh:  they did after all add that wise proviso, “dont on aurait très bien pu se passer”.)

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So what is “pipolade”?   The etymon is evidently the English or rather the American word people -- yet, not as in “We the People”, but as in … People magazine, trail-blazer in the decline of American letters.  The word thus means “glitzy gossipy tidbits from the world of empty celebrities”.   The celebrities in question (as here, all three featured) are mostly American, whence the appropriateness of the American etymology.

The word People itself is used appositionally/asyndetically in the Madame section of Le Figaro, things  like

La semaine people
Michelle Obama tout près de Dustin Hoffman, Amanda Seyfried trop proche de Hugh Jackman, Diane Kurger très loin de Quentin Tarantino…
Now -- Why bother to serve up such a trifle?  You don’t really need to add this odd word to your active vocabulary.  But it does nicely illustrate a trait of French, active for well over a century:  namely, to borrow Anglo-American lexical Kulturgut  in a quirky Gallicized form, deliberately distorted:  acknowledging their interest in the doings of the perfides anglais (and now the amerloques loufoques) while maintaining a certain hexagonal integrity, by dressing up the word in a jester’s cap and bells;  as though to say:  this we simply toy with, the Académie française will never ratify this.

Pour nos essais
en langue
la plus châtiée qui soit,
checkez-out   …..

To give a further sense of the flavor of this frileux variety of Languages in Contact, compare another … not borrowing, exactly, since the word exists nowhere outside of France, but Anglo-Franco hippogriff, appearing on the same page of the trusty Le Robert & Collina Super Senior (the dictionary title being itself a rather larky-sounding Anglico-Gallico confection)  in which I am dligently writing-in our new arrival:   pipi-room.

Mmmyes;  you heard that right.  Along with the idiom aller au pipi-room.  Glossed with the British equivalents (equivalent both referentially and in playfulness) “loo” and “to go and spend a penny”.   And indeed, this pipi undoubtedly played a role in the lexicogenesis of pipolade, marrying up with people in a ceremony presided-over by things like limonade and rigolade
There is a curious anglo-babytalk parallel in German:  Pipi-pause (‘pit stop’).  It looks English but, like pipi-room, is not.   This sort of coy/twee playing-around with expressions for the urinary function (reminiscent of playing-around with the Wiwi-macher itself) have parallels in British English and (abundantly, though with a different twist) Australian English, but not really in adult American, which typically sticks to a certain surly onomatopoiea.

In summary, re pipolade:  This, then, is the sort of bend-sinister offspring of unmarriageable parents, in which the American doyen of Romance Philology, Yakov Malkiel (may God receive his soul), with his keen ear for linguistic playfulness, used to delight.

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We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

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[Update 15 December 2012]  A link to the following  appeared in my mailbox this morning:

Bar Refaeli, Pink, Rihanna, Baptiste Giabiconi… Les people se sont mis à nu sur Twitter

Note the use of les people in the sense of ‘pop celebrities’.  But what of this strip-tweet?  Is it a genuine/common American phrase, borrowed into French?  Or is it like pipi-room, scum villages, et cetera, confected from American spare parts, in a Gallic mould?
A Google search found, zwar,  plenty of instances of contiguous strip plus tweet -- but most of them had nothing to do with the usage here, but occur in contexts like “… Sunset Strip.  Tweet …”
Well, I don’t use Twitter, nor track celebs, so U B the judge.


Pour d’autres friandises
de la confiserie 
du docteur Justice,


[Update 24 January 2013]    Meanwhile, the guardians of the linguistic citadel wage a battle of Sprachreinigung (hygiène du langage) , as they have done since the eighteenth century:

Le Journal officiel du 23 janvier préconise d'user du terme «mot-dièse» au lieu de «hashtag». Sur le réseau social, on se gausse de ces combats perdus d'avance.

That is, instead of the word in international use, which is composed of two familiar English words but which, for all I know, may actually have been coined in Finland or Japan, French-speakers are urged to call it a ‘sharp’.

Si cela vous parle,
savourez la série noire
en argot authentique d’Amérique :


[Update 11 May 2014]  The latest from “Madame Figaro” (by far the worst offender):

Les baskets slip-on gagnent du terrain
Des motifs arty, du cuir, du poulain, du raphia... La tendance mix & match a tissé sa toile sur la reine du street wear.

For more re such gynecomorphic bobo-talk, this:


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