Skip to main content

Incroyable! France in quest to purge word "hashtag" from Twitter

The French don't like how English tech jargon is invading their language, and now Les Bleus' language police have handcuffed the common Twitter term "hashtag," according to reports.

France's Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie have announced that all government references to hashtagged words and phrases, word groupings prefixed by the symbol "#," will now use the French term "mot-dièse," The Local reported.

The Gallic-flavoured replacement for hashtag means "sharp word" and French language authorities have defined it as "a series of characters preceded by the # symbol," according to the English-language news site, which is based in France.

While the use of hashtags on Twitter has helped popularise the term with a wide audience, hashtagging words and phrases didn't actually originate with the micro-blogging service. In fact, using the "#" symbol to label a discussion topic appears to have started on Internet Relay Chat boards sometime in the middle of the last decade, though the practice quickly caught on with Twitter users in the service's early days.

Perhaps predictably, the reaction from French Twitter users has been less than enthusiastic, according to the Huffington Post, which dug up several tweets mocking the new term.

The commission's attempt to scrub a popular English word from the French language is hardly unusual.

France has long taken a very aggressive approach to policing the French language and protecting it from unwanted foreign words. More often than not, they are English words that some linguistic purists believe will have a negative impact on "French word formation, phonetics and grammar, not just terminology," as the Huffington Post noted.

But whether such a heavy-handed approach has helped the growth of French or hindered it is debatable. Some critics of institutions like the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie have argued that over the past few centuries, English in particular has rocketed past French to become the world's lingua franca (ironically enough) because it has no central authority shaping it rather than in spite of that fact.

Whatever the case may be, the tiff over hashtags appears to be about more than just maintaining the purity of the French language. Earlier this week, a French court ordered Twitter to identify the authors of racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic tweets, with specific examples citing hashtagged terms like #UnBonJuif (a good Jew) and #SiMonFilsEstGay (if my son is gay), and #SiMaFilleRamèneUnNoir (if my daughter brings home a black guy).

The micro-blogging service must comply with the court's ruling "within the framework of its French site," the AFP reported.

A Twitter spokesman said it was "currently reviewing the court's decision."