Tuesday September 19, 2017

'Sandwich au fromage fondant' officially becomes 'grilled cheese' in Quebec

"Grilled cheese" is now acceptable on menus across Québec.

"Grilled cheese" is now acceptable on menus across Québec. (Shutterstock)

Listen 1:52

Read Story Transcript

The following is a transcript from As It Happens which aired on Sept 19th, 2017.

It's a fait accompli – even if some still believe it's a massive faux pas.

When it comes to using English words and phrases in Quebec, speakers have never had carte blanche: the province's office of the French language – or Office québécois de la langue française, or OQLF – has strictly policed usage.

Defending the French language is its raison d'être.

But, of course, being such a widely spoken language, English words have a way of infiltrating the Quebec lexicon. Sure, you could say "sandwich au fromage fondant" instead of "grilled cheese" – but the latter kept popping up on menus and in conversations.

We guess it has a certain je ne sais quoi. You could say the same about the word "smash." It has a certain élan, particularly compared to the awkward French substitute, "coup d'écrasement."

Well, vis-à-vis these words and others, the OQLF has recently adopted a more laissez-faire attitude. On its website earlier this year – and unnoticed until now by anglophones – the Office announced a rapprochement with certain selected English words and phrases.

Cocktail pic

Coquetel has been replaced by "cocktail" as the name for a boozy beverage. (Pixabay.com)

Now "grilled cheese" is officially fine. So is "smash." It's okay to use "cocktail" instead of "coquetel," and "baby boom" instead of "bébé-boum."

A spokesperson for the OQLF explained the changes by saying, "Language is something that is vivant." Which is true, even if it's verging on cliché.

Still, not everyone agrees: some say the Office has overstepped its bounds — that its job is to be prescriptive, rather than descriptive. Well, touché, I guess. But it's not like a few English words will be a coup de grâce for French in Quebec.

For one thing, language changes at an escargot's pace. And for another, remember: the right words in French will always be les mots justes.