Quebec’s cafes and restaurants will now be allowed to offer their patrons “grilled cheese” sandwiches and “cocktails”, after the region’s French language watchdog lifted their ban on some English words.
The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), a government body which employs 250 people, has also given the nod to words including softball, baby boom and toast, the Globe and Mail reports.
Despite its reputation as a fusty stickler for “pure” French, the OQLF announced the newly acceptable words with remarkable sang-froid.
Spokesman Jean-Pierre Le Blanc went so far as to describe the anglicisms as "part of our linguistic enrichment” - an astonishing concession for those familiar with Quebec’s sensitive linguistic history.
French speakers are aware of their minority status - only around one in five Canadians speaks French as a first language - and have been fiercely protective of their language’s equal status under the law.
French must be given equal precedence with English for all official government business, while in majority-francophone Quebec everything from product labels to advertising posters must be displayed in French as well as English - and the OQLF is serious when it comes to enforcing the rules.
In 2013, a Montreal brasserie owner told Canadian broadcaster CBC that language inspectors had told him to cover an “on/off” label on a hot water switch because it did not include a French translation.
“When a first layer of opaque tape failed to cover up the English words, Holder said he was told to add a second layer of tape,” the broadcaster reports.
Excessive use of foreign terms - from English or other languages - has also attracted the ire of the OQLF.
In 2013, an Italian restaurant received a letter from a OQLF inspector ordering them to stop serving “pasta” and “antipasti” and start serving “pates” and “hors d’oeuvres”.
“Pastagate”, as it was dubbed in the Canadian press, generated a public outcry against the OQLF’s heavy-handed attitude, with some accusing the body of abusing its powers.
The OQLF blamed the incident on an “excess of zeal” on the inspector’s part and later relaxed its rules to permit foreign culinary terms.
This new permissiveness when it comes to “cocktails” and “softball” doesn’t mean the OQLF is giving up its battle against English neologisms.
Au contraire, says Globe and Mail, the body “is currently trying to get teenagers to refer to selfies as ‘égoportraits’ and to ghosting… as ‘fantomisation’”. Who knows, it might just catch on...