“Covid” is a Woman, “Capsule” is a Man
“Covid-19” is feminine. That’s what the Académie Française has decided. The Academy, made up of 40 members known as “Les Immortels” (The Immortals), is the governing body over the French language, officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. As the gatekeepers of the national tongue, the Academy has desperately tried to ban English language words from infiltrating their precious language over the years, much to their chagrin, as they continue to fail to control something as living as a language.
In August of 1994, just as I was arriving in France, Jacques Toubon, who was Minister of Culture at the time, passed a law “mandating the use of the French language in official government publications, in all advertisements, in all workplaces, in commercial contracts, in some other commercial communication contexts, in all government-financed schools, and some other contexts.” (Wikipedia.org) The law didn’t concern private, non-commercial communications, books, films, public speeches, and other forms of communications, but did mandate over the use of the French language in all broadcast audiovisual programs.
The “Loi Toubon” wasn’t well-received by the European Commission “which regarded its provisions as particularly offensive to the concept of free competition across national borders,” and it wasn’t taken seriously by the average Frenchman who found words like “e-mail” to be more useful than “courriel” or “messagerie électronique” and “start-up” for “création d’une jeune entreprise.”
Over the years, I’ve watched the French language evolve into a much more international language by adopting more English than M. Toubon would be content with. It’s virtually impossible to have a single sentence without interjecting at least one English language word, especially considering today’s world of advanced technology and science where English is the official language. “Tant pis” (too bad), the Académie Française is swimming against the tide and will surely drown in its efforts.
Nonetheless, it was faced with an “énigme” — how to define the gender of “Covid-19.” According to a recent article in CNN.com, the gender in French is “determined by whatever word constitutes the core of the abbreviation.” Like “La CIA” (feminine) because “agence” of “Agence Centrale de Renseignement” (Central Intelligence Agency) is a feminine word. In the case of Covid-19, “Covid” stands for “maladie provoquée par le corona virus” (“the disease caused by the coronavirus” in English) and because “maladie” is feminine. Basically, almost all words in French for a disease is feminine for this reason, such as “la bronchite,” “la grippe,” “la migraine.”
Lots of gender in the French language make no sense to me, like the word “couleur” (color) is feminine, but all the colors themselves are masculine: le bleu, le jaune, le rouge. “Boisson” (drink) is feminine, but most of the drinks themsleves are not: le café, le jus, le thé. Most imported English words, tend to be masculine, such as le challenge, le parking, le weekend.
If gender in French is one of your hang-ups, then there are clues you can use to make it easier. Start with noun endings. Certain endings are clues to masculine words, such as –eau, –ège, –ème, –er, –et, –isme and –ent. Others are clues to feminine words, such as –ance, –ière, –sion/tion, –ié, –esse, –ette, –eur and –ie. Then, there are certain categories of nouns that tend to be masculine or feminine. For example, since “la mer” (the sea) is feminine, names of specific seas, such as “la Méditerranée” (the Mediterranean) are feminine, as well. On top of that, careers are mostly masculine (is that because women didn’t have “careers” once upon a time?), such as “un médicin” (a doctor), “un professeur” (a teacher), “un chef” (a chef), “un écrivain” (a writer), “un avocat” (a lawyer).
“Le Nespresso” is a man because “café” is masculine. Not only that, but it’s recyclable…at least the capsules are now that the shops have re-opened.
During confinement, my golden plastic sac of used capsules filled up to the brim, with nowhere to take them as the Nespresso shop on rue des Francs Bourgeois was shut tight. (The recycling started when my daughter shamed me into it, giving me a piece of her mind about recycling when she saw me tossing them into the trash with everything else.) I set the overflowing bag aside on the window sill of the kitchen to consider what to do with it.
One night about midnight, I heard a noise in the kitchen and got out of bed to see what it was, afraid it might be a mouse! When I saw the kitchen, I couldn’t help but laugh — the bag had fallen over and the capsules had spilled all over the floor sending the dried coffee powder everywhere…and I mean everywhere! There was nothing I could do but clean up the mess at the late hour and the next day dump the bag of capsules in the recycle bin for the building.
My friend, Barb Westfield, holed up in her village house in Provence, is an ardent recycler of capsules, like I am. She took her overloaded bags (a few of them) to the Nespresso shop in Aix-en-Provence, just like the Good Samaritan she is, to discover she wasn’t the only frustrated recycler out there! Others had simply placed their golden sacs of capsules at the foot of the boutique door, having created a big pile for Nespresso to eventually take away.
Today I received a notice from Nespresso touting their national campaign to recycle capsules to recycle capsules. Seven advertising posters are designed to shame everyone into recycling, just like my daughter did me. Aluminum is an infinitely recyclable material and the company has now set up a network of more than 5,000 collection points available throughout France (Mondial Relay relay points, recycling centers, shops, couriers, companies, etc.), so no more accidents in the kitchen if they can help it.
“All capsules collected via the Nespresso chain have a second life: coffee grounds are used in biogas and compost, and aluminum is used to make new objects such as cans, bicycles or car engines for example.” In some cities, the capsules can go directly into the sorting bins with other recyclable packaging.
Good thing, because that’s what I did during confinement. And btw, “le capsule” is masculine, too.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Author Talia Carner, who will be speaking at our next Après Midi, “Tells Tales” — “Two months of isolation have been bringing introspective and refocus on issues that count…Both my talks about sex trafficking and the creative writing process continue to attract readers and thinkers.” Talia Carner
Below are her upcoming public Zoom events.
1) UNDERSTANDING SEX TRAFFICKING:
Wednesday, 5/20/20 at 8 PM ET
Please register NOW for this webinar
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing the link to join the webinar.
2) Repeat AUTHOR CHAT AND Q&A (“Quarantinis” with Talia) — the ideas, the creative process, the research
Sunday, May 31, at 8 PM EST
Please register now
To get a complete listing of her events, email Talia Carner at [email protected] and she will send you your exclusive group Zoom meeting info.
P.P.S. SPECIAL NOTE: In Honor of Jack Gorlin, my brother-in-law of almost 54 years who passed away in early April, I am sponsoring a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to pay for the funeral expenses. I thank you in advance for your generous contributions and for posting this or passing this on to anyone you think might like to contribute in honor of Jack’s passing. Here’s the link to the GoFundMe campaign.