French dictionary includes gender-inclusive pronoun in new edition

The inclusion of 'iel' in a major French dictionary has caused an outcry from France's Education Minister and other critics, who say it opens the door to wokeness.

French Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, speaks on the phone outside the Elysée Palace. He has criticised a leading dictionary for defining a gender-inclusive pronoun.
French Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has criticised a leading dictionary for defining a gender-inclusive pronoun. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

A major French reference dictionary defended on Wednesday its official recognition of a gender-inclusive pronoun, after traditionalists pounced on what they called the latest incursion of US-inspired ‘wokeism’.

While the everyday use of ‘iel’ — a neologism combining the French words for he and she (“il” and “elle”) — remains largely anecdotal for now, critics deem it a linguistic affront that needs to be banned.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer denounced the move by the Petit Robert dictionary, supporting a lawmaker’s demand that French language guardians at the Académie Française weigh in.

‘Inclusive writing is not the future of the French language,’ Blanquer wrote on Twitter.

‘Our students, who are consolidating their basic knowledge, cannot have that as a reference,’ he added.

The controversy is the latest example of pushback in some French quarters against cultural theories on race and gender that have been embraced in particular by younger generations.

Critics deem them American imports that aim to pit people with different identities against each other, chipping away at the French ideals of unity and equality.

READ ALSO What is ‘inclusive writing’ and why is it banned in French schools?

‘This type of initiative sullies our language, and ends up dividing its users instead of bringing them together,’ wrote Francois Jolivet, the lawmaker in President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party seeking the ban by the Académie.

But the Robert’s director Charles Bimbenet denied any activist motive, saying its specialists had noted a rise in the use of ‘iel’ for several months now.

‘The Robert has not had a sudden serious case of ‘wokeism’ — a word that we promise to define soon,’ Bimbenet wrote in a statement.

‘It seemed useful to specify its meaning for people who come across it, whether they want to use it or, on the contrary, reject it,’ he said.

‘Defining the words at use in the world helps us to better understand it.’

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The new French words added to the dictionary

The latest edition of France's Larousse dictionary set to be published this June, and it has announced it will add 150 new words.

The new French words added to the dictionary

Each year, France’s Larousse dictionary holds up a mirror to society, showing its evolution by making official the words and phrases that were most important in the year previous. This year, in preparation of its 2023 edition, the dictionary added 150 new words, which according to the publishing company, “testify to both the vitality and diversity of the French language.”

These are the words that have gotten people talking the most:

Covid long

After over two years of Covid-19, it is not surprising that a number of coronavirus-related words have entered the dictionary. “Covid long” refers to the condition of lingering Covid-19 symptoms, sometimes for weeks or months after infection. Other Covid-19 related words and phrases that are now included in the Larousse are: passe vaccinal (vaccine pass), passe sanitaire (sanitary pass), vaccinateur or vaccinatrice (vaccinator), vaccinodrome (vaccine center), and distanciel (at a distance).


The noun “wokisme,” which made headlines and sparked controversy this past year, is now defined by the Larousse as follows: “Woke-inspired ideology, centered on questions of equality, justice and the defense of minorities, sometimes perceived as an attack on republican universalism.”

Le séparatisme

Another word reflective of the political climate in France, “Séparatisme” has been added to the dictionary under the definition “the will of a minority, usually religious, to place its own laws above national legislation.” A lot of times, you will see this word in debates surrounding religion and immigration.


Grossophobie” is defined as “a hostile, mocking and/or contemptuous, even discriminatory, attitude towards obese or overweight people.” In English, this word is “fatphobia.”


The rise of tech and all things crypto is not specific to the anglophone word. Now, the English acronym, NFT, has made its way into the French dictionary, defined in French as “Les jetons non fongibles” (Non-fungible tokens). 


Finally, the Larousse dictionary added plenty of words with non-French origins, like “Halloumi” which is a type of cheese made from mixed goat and sheep’s milk that is originally from Cyprus.

The Larousse 2023 will also include other new words from different foreign languages, like konjac (a Japanese plant), kakapo (a New Zealand parrot), tomte (a Swedish elf) and yodel (a singing technique from the German-speaking Alps).

These are just a few of the 64,000 words that will be included in the 2023 version of the dictionary.