La, not Le: French academy says COVID-19 is ‘feminine’

A sculpture in the likeness of a coronavirus particle is seen outside a property that borders a road leading to St. Michaels, Maryland, US, April 27, 2020. (Reuters)

Bread is masculine, beer feminine. In French, every noun has a gender, and that includes the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

COVID-19 is feminine - to be used with the article “la” not “le” - according the official guardian of the French language, which has urged an end to the widespread practice in France of referring to it as masculine.

“The use of the feminine would be preferable,” the Academie Francaise said in a directive published on its website under the category “faulty use.”

“It is perhaps not too late to give this acronym back the gender it should have.”

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The academy deplored the use of the masculine “le COVID-19” in the media and general conversation in France, saying the disease had wrongly been attributed the same gender as the germ that causes it: “le” coronavirus.

It explained that COVID was an acronym for coronavirus disease, and that in French, the core word in an acronym is what gives it its gender. In this case, disease, which is a feminine “la maladie” in the language of Moliere.

The World Health Organization has long referred to COVID-19 as “la”, and in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, government websites and the media use the feminine form.

The “Office quebecois de la langue francaise” also recommends its feminine use, and the Royal Spanish Academy has issued similar guidance, citing the same grammar rationale.

The members of the French academy are mostly elderly men who wear an ornate uniform and a sword and are known as the immortals.

Only last year did the notoriously conservative academy open the door to feminine versions of professions such as doctor and teacher.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:54 - GMT 06:54
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