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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The health passport is feminine, rules French language guardian

France's health passport - requiring proof of vaccination, Covid recovery or a negative test to enter venues including bars, museums and cafés - has been quite a controversial idea, but now at least one argument has been solved.

The health passport is feminine, rules French language guardian
Would there be fewer protests if the pass became a passe? Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

The health passport in French is known as a pass sanitaire – but should it be a masculine le pass or a feminine la passe?

Until now the styling had been masculine and the reporting in the French press, as well as government communications have referred to it as a pass sanitaire.

Even president Emmanuel Macron used this styling when he announced the introduction of the health passport on July 12th.

However, now the French language guardians the Academie française have got involved.

READ ALSO Swords, immortality and wifi – 5 things to know about the Academie française

Not only is pass incorrect, says the Academie in its statement, but – even worse – it’s an Anglicism.

The ruling reads: “The noun ‘pass‘ is an Anglicism to be avoided.

“In French, it could be replaced by the feminine word passe, which can designate a passage permit, a laissez-passer.

“In Stendhal’s Mémoires d’un touriste (1838), we read: “Le sous-préfet […] m’a donné une passe pour l’extrême frontière (The sub-prefect […] gave me a pass for the border) and in Balzac’s Le Martyr calviniste (1841): “Nul ne quitte la ville sans une passe de monsieur de Cypierre, fût-il, comme moi, membre des États” (No one leaves the city without a pass from Mr. de Cypierre, even if he is a member of parliament, like me).”

The Academie does add that a different construction could make the passport masculine, but it would still be spelled passe.

It explains: “In the sense of laissez-passer [a pass or permit] passe, which is somewhat outdated, could be replaced by a masculine form: le passe, short for passe-partout.

“Either of these forms would easily render the meaning contained today in the Anglicism pass, especially since the verb ‘to pass’ is borrowed from the French passer, at little cost, le pass sanitaire and le pass culture would thus become le passe sanitaire and le passe culture“.

The Academie française has previously ruled on Covid – Covid itself is feminine, la Covid, even though le coronavirus is masculine.

But while la Covid has become the widely accepted form, some of the Academie’s other pronouncements are less well observed.

It has over the years made a concerted effort to replace Anglicisms – particularly tech-related terms – with French alternatives, but many of these have failed to take off.

The most notorious example is wifi, where the Academie wanted to replace le wifi (pronounced whiffy in French) with the cumbersome l’access sans fil à internet (wireless access to the internet) – they were widely ignored by the French who continue to use le wifi.

But on health passports, Macron is officially wrong – at least when it comes to spelling.

OPINION Macron’s health passport is an unsung triumph for France 

Member comments

  1. Thank God, the English language doesn’t have genders for nouns! It’s one of the most advantageous facets of the English language when I tell my French pupils that they don’t have to worry about the genders of everyday things such as cows in the field, or cars in garages, or whatever. Most other (dare I say “inferior “) languages have masculine or feminine or even neuter genders. O dear…those poor Brits who need to mug up on foreign genders….my heart goes out to them!

    1. In Modern English, pronouns are largely still gendered, as are ships and some other entities (e.g., referred to as “she”). Old English was gendered (three genders).

      As far as I am aware, in Modern English there is no ungendered pronoun *unambiguously* for a single individual human. You can use “they” (yes, it is singular as well as plural (and has been used in a singular sense for centuries, OED traces it back to the 14th century)), or in some contexts, “you”, but there is no (known to me) one-word pronoun substitution for the simple “she or he” (sometimes written “(s)he” or similar).

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Inchiodare’

You'll nail this word in no time.

Italian word of the day: 'Inchiodare'

What do a carpenter, a detective, and a bank robber screeching to a halt in their getaway car all have in common?

In English, not much – but in Italian, they could all be said to inchiodare (eenk-ee-ohd-AHR-eh) in the course of their professional activities.

In its simplest form, inchiodare simply means ‘to nail’ (chiodo, ‘kee-OH-do’, is a nail) – a picture to a wall, or a leg to a table.

Ha trovato questo cartello inchiodato alla sua porta.
She found this notice nailed to her door.

Inchioderò la mensola al muro più tardi.
I’ll nail the shelf to the wall later.

But like ‘to nail’, inchiodare has more than one definition.

You can use it to describe someone or something being ‘pinned’ in place, without actually having been literally nailed there.

Mi ha inchiodato al muro.
He pinned me to the wall.

La mia gamba è inchiodata al terreno.
My leg is pinned to the ground.

You can be metaphorically inchiodato to a place in the sense of being stuck there, tied down, or trapped.

Dovrei essere in vacanza e invece sono inchiodata alla mia scrivenia.
I should be on holiday and instead I’m stuck at my desk.

Don'T Forger You'Re Here Forever GIF - The Simpsons Mr Burns Youre Here GIFs

Siamo inchiodati a questa scuola per altri tre anni.
We’re stuck at this school for another three years.

Sono stati inchiodati dal fuoco di armi.
They were trapped by gunfire.

Just like in English, you can inchiodare (‘nail’) someone in the sense of proving their guilt.

Chiunque sia stato, ha lasciato tracce di DNA che lo inchioderanno.
Whoever it was, they left traces of DNA that will take them down.

Ti inchioderò per questo omicidio.
I’m going to nail you for this murder.

Thomas Sadoski Tommy GIF by CBS

Senza la pistola non lo inchioderemo, perché non abbiamo altre prove.
Without the gun we’re not going to get him, because we have no other proof.

For reasons that are less clear, the word can also mean to slam on the brakes in a car.

Ha inchiodato e ha afferrato la pistola quando ha visto la volante bloccando la strada.
He slammed on the brakes and grabbed the gun when he saw the police car blocking the road.

Hanno inchiodato la macchina a pochi passi da noi.
They screeched to a halt in the car just a few feet away from us.

Those last two definitions mean that you’re very likely to encounter the word when watching mystery shows or listening to true crime podcasts. Look out for it the next time you watch a detective drama.

In the meantime, have a think about what (or who) you can inchiodare this week.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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