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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: There’s a new divide in France – those who say ‘hop’ or ‘toc’

After 25 years in France, John Lichfield has noticed a new trend and new divide - between those who pepper their conversations with 'hop' and those who prefer 'toc'.

Baker serving a baguette in France
Does your baguette come with a hop or a toc? Photo: Thierry Zocolan/AFP

France no longer divides solely between the left and the right, or the young and the old, or the north and the south. It also divides between those who say hop whenever they do something and those who say toc.

In my almost quarter of a century living in France, I have noted the invasion of the language of Molière by verbal tics of various kinds. Du coup. Par contre. Voilà quoi.

The march of “hop” and toc is, in my opinion, relatively new.  It is especially rife amongst waiters and shop assistants, hairdressers and medical staff.

Some say hop whenever they do something. Others say toc. The other day I bought two bottles of wine from a man who alternated between hop and toc. This is the first case of hop-tic bilingualism that I’ve come across.

Other verbal ticks which are now disfiguring spoken French do serve a purpose of a kind. Par contre (literally, “on the other hand” or “anyhow”) is an annoyingly invasive phrase but it conveys, I suppose, a kind of chumminess or complicity.

READ ALSO Nine noises that will make you sound more French

Hop and Toc are pointless – verbalisations of actions that need no verbalising. “Look I’m giving you your baguette, hop. See, I’m wrapping up your cheese, toc. Now I’m going to put down these scissors, hop. Time to take your blood pressure, toc.”

How long, one wonders, before these expressions appear in the vast dictionary of the French language which is being revised perpetually (and very slowly) by members of the Académie Française?

Actually, both of them are in there already.

“Hop! Interjection. Onomatopée. Evoque, ordonne or accompagne un movement brusque…” (Hop! Interjection. Onomatopoeia. Evokes, orders or accompanies a sudden movement…)

“ Toc. Onomatopée qui sert à exprimer un bruit, un choc sourd…”   Toc. Onamatopoeia which is used to express a muffled noise or shock…”

I suppose that gives hop-toc a kind of legitimacy. Eric Zemmour would, no doubt, be pleased. These are pointless French words. They are not verbal immigrants, like ok, wow, or bled.

Hop and Toc have, I find, even been immortalised in literature.  Virginie Hanna (words) and Sandrine Lhomme (drawings) have published “Et hop! Et toc!”, the moving story of a flea (Pucinette) who does not know how to jump. 

Several mysteries remain. Why have these onomatopoeic interjections become so widespread? Who says hop and who says toc? Are there regional differences, like the old north-south distinction between “oui” and “oc” (hence Langue d’Oc).

Is there a “pays de hop”? And a “pays de toc”? Is it a class thing? Or an age thing? Someone should write a thesis: “Les hops et les tocs: the two tribes of 21st century France.”

I am not qualified to do so. Full confession. Despite my almost 25 years in France and my Belgian Francophone mother, my spoken French is far from parfait.

It annoys me, all the same, that – even to my Anglophonic ears – the beautiful French language is being abused. Something similar is happening to English but that is not my subject.

When I came to work in France in 1997, I was astonished by the eloquence and grammatical precision of footballers, some politicians and even the beggars on the Paris Metro. Since then, it seems to me, things ain’t what they used to be.

In rural Normandy, where I live most of the time, older people that I know can move easily between a form of patois and a very precise formal French. Younger people speak neither.

Their speech is littered with phrases like du coup (and suddenly/as a result) or par contre (however/anyhow) or voilà quoi (there it is then).

READ ALSO Coup: The French word that can mean a drink, a punch, a helping hand and much more

Who is to blame? The French education system? Social media? Probably.

The hop-toc phenomenon is something slightly different: words which express nothing. They are a kind of nervous tic. Interestingly, the French word for a compulsive action or tic is “un toc”.

Hop and toc betray a kind of social unease. People no longer have the confidence to do silently the things they do constantly. They have to provide a running commentary, as if they were on the TV.

That’s my theory. Voilà quoi.

Member comments

  1. What bugs quite often is that many people, when talking to me/someone start a new sentence with ‘écoute’. As if i’d need a reminder to pay attention… 😀

    1. A very interesting piece by John Lichfield, I have only lived in France for 5 years and am amazed at the number of slang words and shortened words that are used.
      It makes my understanding of fast spoken French much more difficult!

  2. It doesn’t seem to be regional because I hear both “tac” and “hop” here in the southwest. Two southern usages in my area are “chocolatine” instead of “pain au chocolat” and “c’est moi” instead of “de rien” or “avec plaisir.” I wonder whether the latter is a class thing, though, since I first heard it from tradesmen.

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FRENCH LANGUAGE

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).

Wokisme

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

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

NFT

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). 

l’Halloumi

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.

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