English is the language of the Internet, a fact which I’m unbelievably thankful for. This isn’t by chance, instead it’s thanks to a combination of factors, the most relevant being it’s a somewhat universal language offline too. It’s not only the second most-spoken first language in the world, it is widely believed to be the second most-spoken second language in the world.
However, not everyone is particularly happy that English has been ordained in this way without any real argument, fuss, or vote. When I say not everyone, I really mean the French. Not the whole country, but a certain section dedicated to protecting and enriching the French language.
The Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologisme does this by seeking alternatives to foreign words at risk of seeping into popular culture. This is despite the fact that French words regularly enter into common usage in other countries.
Its latest target, according to Death and Taxes, is the word “Hashtag,” which originated on Twitter (already the cause of some angst in France). It relates to the use of ‘#’ followed by a word or phrase to help tweets be more easily searchable. It’s not an especially beautiful word, but it does the job rather well.
Not for the French government, it doesn’t, which has arbitrarily decided that “mot-dièse” should be used instead of Hashtag. “Mot-dièse” literally translates into “sharp-word,” even though the sharp symbol (♯) being referenced is clearly different from the hash symbol.
Hashtag will no longer be used on official government documents, and the use of “mot-dièse” to replace it will be widely encouraged. Thankfully it’s not a legal requirement for all French Twitter users to make the switch, but many are expected to anyway.
Petty. Or, as the French would say, insignifiant.