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Review: French dictionary of words that don’t exist

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Le Dico des Mots Qui N’existent Pas (et Qu’on Utilise Quand Même) by Olivier Talon and Gilles Vervisch (@GVervisch).

5 stars ☆☆☆☆☆ (so long as you read French, otherwise a bit tricky).

If you’ve ever read The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (and you read French well) this book is for you. The Meaning of Liff is a compilation of definitions for which there are no words in the English language, so the brilliant Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s etc) and John Lloyd (behind QI on the BBC) picked British place names for them.

This dictionary is different, it picks up words in common (or uncommon) usage in French which Le Petit Robert has not yet adopted. The authors have a fantastic tongue in cheek approach, their descriptions are dismissive and derisive, they call out bad grammar and poor usage that has lead to strange words entering the language. Their humourous attitude though belies the extensive research they’ve invested. There are often traces of words going back centuries, histories of re-emergence and loss, only for a word to return recently with a subtly or completely different meaning.

My French is pretty good but I’ve needed to look up words in the descriptions as I go. I’ve also giggled and laughed out loud at times. It’s taken me weeks to get through because I read more slowly in French. But I’m so glad I invested the time, hopefully I’ll use some of the terms I’ve learnt at work and impress my French colleagues.


I’ve tweeted some of my favourites and some of himself’s responses to my late night giggling with the hashtags: #dico #lesmotquinexistentpas #maisquonutilisequandmeme
See @AndSmelly on Twitter too.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • Cékiki = c’est qui qui = who is it that. Just because its funny.
  • Combientième = the nth, howevermany, the somethingth. Subject: number of beers consumed, conversations about coronavirus, requests for screen time etc.
  • Défacebooker: pronounced défessebouquer. To stop telling virtual friends we’re happy the weather’s nice and finding out what sort of egg their hens laid today.
  • Désantivoler: the act of removal of a device intended to prevent or alert the theft of a high value item from a shop.
  • Facilitateur: experts in biological taxonomy class “facilitators” as a sub-species of the race of consultants.
  • Généricable/génériquable: an out of patent drug that can now be produced as a generic. The funny bit was concerning the spelling: “Its probably a typo, but how can we establish with certainty the correct spelling of a word that doesn’t exist?”
  • Gonogo: I hear this all the time at work! I never considered spelling it as a single word, I always thought of it as “go/no go”. Its a decision whether to continue a project. An anglicism where the English doesn’t exist (but then nor does the French, officially at least). Possibly interesting is thatI hear it only from French colleagues, not anglophones.
  • Inhomogénėitė: the opposite of homogeneous is heterogeneous and the opposite of heterogeneous is not inheterogeneous. However, inhomogeneous is a wise long word with many syllables.
  • Inlâchable: unputdownable, a page turner. This just pleased me. In English the exact equivalent is very awkward and the translation is specific to books where inlâchable applies to other things to. So simple, but so clear.
  • Microcochliarmaphlie: a collector of small spoons. Because as soon as we give something a scientific name, it is validated as a worthwhile undertaking.
  • Nėologiser: if no one ever neologised, this dictionary would have no reason to exist.
  • Patientėle: clientele but for a Dr, who can’t have clients because that’s vulgar and money grabbing.
  • Pédéhéfier: the act of creating a PDF format file.
  • Radariser: to have one’s speed (in a vehicle) measured by a radar control – and it’s not fair!
  • Re: meaning “re” to repeat, do again, have more. Except its usage doesn’t translate. “C’est re moi” means “it’s me again”, but in English we wouldn’t say “its re me”.
  • Retwitter: to retweet, something wrong with the conjugation or the infinitive here. Surely it should be retweeter?
  • Solutionner: to resolve your conjugation problems by using a neologism.
  • Sursensationnalisation: over sensationalise. Also a really long word, too many Ns and Ss for scrabble though.
  • Tartinabilité: this is related to rheology, the science of things that flow and what are called the visco-elastic properties of the materials that we can tartiner. Essentially, its spreadability. Which I’m not sure exists in English either, but I’ll use it anyway. Such a material should be easy to scoop up, spread nicely without needing too much pressure, and stay properly in place on one’s toast (tartine) after being applied there. I love this one, peanut butter is a perfect example of a material whose tartinabilité varies by temperature – too cold and you shred your toast trying to spread it, too warm and it drips everywhere.
  • Trouilloteuse: a hole punch. Why isn’t that a valid word already in the dictionary?

Here’s a nice picture of a French landscape to finish things off.

2 thoughts on “Review: French dictionary of words that don’t exist”

  1. When I was in … I don’t know, eighth grade … a kid at my school brought in “The Meaning of Liff.” The only one I remember is Wimbledon, which was for a particularly male problem as exemplified by the poem that starts “No matter how much you shake … .”

    Liked by 1 person

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