The French language has evolved a lot over the years. We’ve lost a number of words along the way, while gaining new ones, sometimes from different languages. But what can be confusing for learners of French is that there are words which have remained in the language for centuries, but whose meanings have changed, for one reason or another.
If you were to go back in time – say, 500 years ago – many of the French words you might use today would have a totally different meaning. Some of them have only changed slightly over time – but others have undergone huge transformations. While nowadays no one would bat an eyelid if you were to say, for instance, 'Vous devez vous requinquer pour passer cet examen' ('You need to gather your strength to sit this exam'), someone from mediaeval France might wonder why – and be offended that – you're suggesting they need to 'fix their face' in order to sit an exam – that's if they know what an exam is in the first place!
Read on to discover 15 words that have changed meaning over time.
|Word||New meaning||Old meaning|
|Abandonner||(to) Give up||(to) Give oneself up|
|Affinité||Familial relationship||Closeness, proximity (spelt 'afinité')|
|Bouffer||(to) Gorge||(to) Puff up one's cheeks|
|Casser||(to) Break||(to) Shake|
|Énerver||(to) Anger||(to) Make (something) soft|
|Fagoter||(to) Dress badly||(to) Gather twigs|
|Râler||(to) Complain||(to) Return|
|Requinquer||(to) Gather one's strength. (Reflexive, 'se requinquer')||(to) Fix one's face|
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