AM – Dictionaries

Dictionnaire du français en liberté: français argotique, populaire et familier [Dictionary of Free-Range French: Slangy, Popular, and Informal French]. Dontcho Dontchev. Montpellier: Éditions singulières, 2007. 525 p. 25 cm. ISBN 9782354780043: EUR 22

Nouveau dictionnaire de la langue verte: le français argotique et familier au XXIe siècle [New Dictionary of Slang: Slangy and Informal French in the 21st Century]. Pierre Merle. Paris: Denoël, 2007. 889 p. 21 cm. ISBN 9782207257951: EUR 30

An RREA Original Review by Wendeline A. Hardenberg (Mansfield University of Pennsylvania)

Both of these French-language slang dictionaries were published in France in 2007 for use by native French speakers. They do not seek to provide any help with obsolete or archaic words or with professional jargon, but rather to clarify the current usage of non-standard language.

The Bulgarian-born Dontcho Dontchev presents readers with the third incarnation of his French slang dictionary and thesaurus, the last version of which appeared in 2000 under the simpler title Dictionnaire du français argotique, populaire et familier. His stated goal is to capture the non-standard words and phrases currently in use in France, particularly those coined by young people of the working-class suburbs. This dictionary features over 11,000 main entries and more than 10,000 idioms, which represent an increase of around 2,500 main entries and about 2,800 idioms from the previous edition. In the first section, they are arranged alphabetically, with grammatical categories (the abbreviations for which are listed at the beginning), type of slang formation if applicable (e.g., z’y-va! is noted to be the verlan version, or slang based on inverted syllables, of vas-y! [go ahead!]), and then definitions in standard French, which can range from one word to more than a column’s worth of possible meanings (as is the case for “banane”). Dontchev makes the conscious decision to include neither etymologies nor dates, although there is a one-page bibliography at the very end. The second section serves as a thesaurus-like counterpart to the dictionary, where slangy synonyms are grouped under a single standard French word, so if you want to know what other slang terms there are for couilles, you first have to know (or look up) the more generic “testicules.”

Dontchev’s compilation is an excellent resource for those with a firm grasp of standard French, and especially useful for those who wish to read or translate contemporary French works of fiction or to watch recent French films. Novices, however, will undoubtedly be forced to consult a standard dictionary to understand most of the definitions, and those unfamiliar with the various types of current French slang will find indications such as “verlan” rather mystifying. This dictionary is highly recommended for institutions with robust programs in French, translation, and/or linguistics.

Pierre Merle, a well-published journalist, writer, and language specialist, here has taken up the mantle of Alfred Delvau (1866) and Hector France (1907) by publishing a Dictionnaire de la langue verte [Dictionary of Slang] for the 21st century. Merle takes a noticeably more academic approach than Dontchev, with a preface that extends for 20 pages and outlines some of the history of French slang lexicography as well as the considerations that went into the present dictionary. Terms are arranged alphabetically. In addition to the usual grammatical categories and standard French definitions, he provides dates and sources for most of his main entries, with all cited quotations coming from works published since 1950 (e.g., “landau,” meaning voiture [car], apparently first appeared in Jeanne Cordelier’s 1976 work La dérobade [The Evasion]). Likely due to all the documentation, Merle’s dictionary features only about 3,500 main entries, even though it is about 400 pages longer than Dontchev’s. At the end is a seven-page bibliography that lists not only reference sources used, but also novels and stories cited. For speakers of French interested in learning where slang words originate, Merle’s Nouveau dictionnaire de la langue verte is far superior to Dontchev’s Dictionnaire du français en liberté, but for those who simply want to know what a word means, Dontchev’s is the better choice. The Merle dictionary is recommended for large institutions with collections serving French linguists.

Synonymes, analogies et antonymes [Synonyms, Analogies, and Antonyms]. Roger Boussinot and Jean Pruvost. New ed. 956 p. 24 cm. Paris: Bordas, 2007. ISBN 9782047322826: EUR 19.90

Dictionnaire de synonymes, mots de sens voisin et contraires [Dictionary of Synonyms, Similar Words, and Antonyms]. Henri Bertaud du Chazaud. Paris: Gallimard, 2007. xi, 1,933 p. 21 cm. ISBN 9782070785179: EUR 30

An RREA Original Review by Sarah G. Wenzel (University of Chicago)

Both of these books are re-editions of alphabetically arranged thesauri by noted lexicographers of previously published works that have undergone several reprints. Bertaud du Chazaud has compiled similar works, while lexicographer Jean Pruvost, who takes up the baton from Boussinot (previously the editor of the Encyclopédie du cinema, Paris, 1980, as well as a novelist), has written extensively on lexicography.

This new edition of the Synonymes, analogies et antonymes has expanded to contain more words than earlier editions. In addition, Pruvost notes in his introduction that he has included French vocabulary “from beyond the hexagon,” which adds a new dimension to this work. However, upon examination, this expansion is only to Québec and Belgium, omitting a large part of the francophone world. Where appropriate, antonyms are also given.

A real strength of the dictionary is that register and usage for the synonyms–not the headwords–are clearly indicated and very specific, e.g., injure raciste [racial epithet], as is word origin if the term is Québécois, Provençal, etc. There are numerous crossreferences. Parts of speech are not given for the headwords, which makes this book slightly more difficult to use for the non-native speaker.

While the headwords are arranged alphabetically, the arrangement of synonyms is not alphabetical. In addition, when a headword covers a subject, such as danse [dance], Pruvost also lists words relating to the subject, as a properly thematic dictionary might do. For example, under danse, he gives the subcategory of danse classique [classical dance], which contains (among others) the words describing positions and steps such as pas de deux, pas de trois, etc. Alcool [alcohol] is another example of such an entry, offering a list of liquors, such as absinthe. Although it is notable that while digestif is listed, apéritif is not, it is much more of a lacuna that there is no reference to alcohol other than as a beverage. This omission is symptomatic of the seemingly random selection and order for all of the synonyms, as well as the general lack of indexing for the more thematic selections. For example, under vin [wine], more general terms, e.g., piquette, are listed first; then, without signaling a shift, the list changes to proper nouns (all of the words in every entry are capitalized, so case is not an indication): Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Chianti, etc. From there, again without any distinction, it switches to adjectives–rouge, blanc, rosé, paillet, pelure d’oignon [red, white, rosé, straw, onion peel], etc.–ending abruptly with Champagne and Vermouth. With sufficient intellectual effort, it is possible to discern the train of thought that led to many of the lists; however, this labor is not desirable and should not be required in order to use a reference book.

There is a short “dictionnaire thématique et parcours de recherche [thematic dictionary and research path],” also not in previous editions, which does not take the place of a thematically arranged thesaurus, such as the Larousse Thésaurus compiled by Daniel Péchoin (Paris, 1995).

The Dictionnaire de synonymes, mots de sens voisin et contraires also claims to have expanded in size and scope, although the announcement on the back cover that it contains over 60,000 entries is identical to the statement on the back cover of the 2003 edition of Dictionnaire de synonymes et mots de sens voisin. The prefatory matter has been slightly enhanced to reflect the inclusion of antonyms (contraires). The book concludes with a bibliography, of which the final section, “Dictionnaires et autres ouvrages de référence [Dictionaries and Other Reference Works],” has been significantly updated from earlier editions.

Entries are well organized, with cross-references and sub-headings clearly indicated. Synonyms are logically grouped. The part of speech and gender of each headword is noted. While some Anglicisms are noted, e.g., “brandy,” others are not, e.g., “vanity case.” Due to the desire to be exhaustive, some entries are more definitions than synonyms, such as “recherche appliquée aux poissons fossiles [applied research on fossil fish],” which includes a cross-reference to zoology for “icthyologie.”

I would not recommend the Boussinot for any library, given the peculiarities and inadequate indexing, when there are other more easily used and more reliable works such as the Bertaud du Chazaud. While libraries with earlier editions of the Bertaud du Chazaud and other up-to-date works containing antonyms may choose not to purchase the new edition, those without such resources would find it a good addition.

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Last update: October 2010 [LC]
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