french chad

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Dec 1 01:33:53 UTC 2000

[NOTE: if you quote from this posting, EDIT YOUR MESSAGE so that the
words below are correctly attributed.  or at least make it clear that
i am QUOTING these words, not saying them myself.]

from chris waigl (cwaigl at to me in e-mail (quoted here with

>In France, "le chad" was used to explain the Florida happenings, but
>it was quickly replaced by the French word, borrowed from Italian and
>forced to undergo similar morphological violence: "le confetti". Sic.

i asked if "le chad" and "le confetti" are count or mass or both,
and got the reply:

>"Le chad" was actually never used as a French noun; it was only
>tentatively introduced into French news speak until a better, French
>equivalent had been found. I am quite sure it was only used as a
>count noun.  "Le confetti" is exclusively a count noun, in all
>instances of usage that I have seen; a visitor in our flat, an
>educated native speaker of French, confirms that.

i pressed on and asked about the plurals:

>Ah, that's where things get murky, according to the searches I have
>done on "confetti" and according to my informer.  French dictionaries
>(e.g. Le Petit Robert) consider "confetti" as a French noun, the
>plural of which is, of course (in this perspective, of course) "les
>confettis". Some speakers, though, consider the noun as an Italian
>noun borrowed by the French language and, knowing that it is already
>a plural in Italian, form the Italian (except for the article) plural
>"les confetti".  This is the case for my informer, who speaks
>Italian... These speakers do not seem to go so far as to form the
>correct Italian singular when using the word in French (*le

>I did a short world wide web search. 'Les confetti' appears to be
>mostly used by manufacturers of carnival items, carnival societies,
>and in general writers connected to the carnival scene -- you could
>call them the confetti professionals. 'Les confettis' is used by the
>same group as well, though. There is a painting and a poster by
>Toulouse-Lautrec (1894) called "Confettis", which was originally an
>advertisement for the London confetti manufacturers J.&E. Bella. In
>Canada, you find a "Théâtre des Confettis". Outside the
>carnival-related world, "les confettis" shows up far more often than
>the plural without s. On the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique in the
>idiomatic expression "Les états confettis de l'Europe" (meaning
>minuscule, politically more or less independant territorial
>entities). Or, in the same attributive use of the noun, "les parcs
>confettis" in the context of urban planning.

>The phenomenon of overpluralization (if you allow the neologism,
>in case the word has not been invented yet) is quite widespread in
>French words imported from other languages. I'd speculate it has
>something to do with marking the word as French. Examples:

>le blini (or even: le blinis, Petit Robert), les blinis
> Russian: blin -- blini [the little thick pancakes made with
> potatoes],
>le média, les médias (or more formal: les media without an
> accent)
>le pin's, les pin's [a pin usually as a distinctive marker, like a
> sticker] yes, with an apostrophe (!). Petit Robert at least gets
> some bad conscience and adds that the General Terminological
> Commission recommends "l'épinglette"

arnold (zwicky at

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