Larousse THE French dictionary

Written by on February 2, 2021 in French Language

Stained glass window depicting a woman blowing seeds from a dandelion flower

Larousse is to France what the Oxford Dictionary is to the UK and much more. The annual new word quota for their dictionary is looked forward to, and their publications influence every facet of French life from cook books to encyclopaedias, teaching and games.

Larousse Dictionary

Larousse was founded by Pierre Athanase Larousse (1817-1875), the son of a blacksmith who became a teacher. Disillusioned with archaic and rigid teaching methods he teamed up with another teacher, Augustin Boyer, and started publishing teaching manuals and progressive textbooks for children. In 1863 he published the first of 15 volumes of an encyclopaedic dictionary. In it’s modern form, it’s still in use today as the Petit Larousse, albeit it with more words than the original.

New – official – French words each year

Each year word fans await the details of new words to be included in the Petit Larousse Illustré. Judging is strict. The word must be frequently used. There must be no technical jargon – the word must be democratically employed! And no words that are a fad and likely to disappear as rapidly as they appeared. Only a handful make the cut and words that go out of fashion are ruthlessly eliminated. It’s an observation of French society in its own way. And in France, words are not empty. The highly influential Académie Francaise, created in 1634 by none other than Cardinal Richelieu, functions to ensure the French language is “pure and comprehensible to all.” In essence they are a sort of language police department. They also publish a dictionary but it’s more highbrow and takes years to be updated from one version to the next. The 9th edition has been worked on since 1986.

21st century words that have been added to the Larousse dictionary include:

Ubériser. Inspired by Uber and refers to a new business model that utilises digital technology.

Smicardisation. When a company or body pays the bulk of employees the minimum basic wage. Often shortened to just smic.

Slasheur. Someone who carries out several jobs and/or activities at the same time. It’s an interesting word because traditionally in France, young people choose a career path early in life and in the past tended to stick to it. For me, it really reflects a change in the French mindset, particularly in young people.

Larousse today

Larousse today print books on dozens of diverse topics from gastronomy, chocolate and Christmas to culture, wellbeing and embroidery. They’re known worldwide, employ hundreds of authors and have printed thousands of books. The Larousse Gastronomique, by famous French chef Prosper Montagne, is considered by many to the bible of French cuisine, an encyclopaedia of French gastronomy.

Maison Claude Augé

Claude Augé, was a teacher from Gers who married a grand-niece of Pierre Larousse and in 1885 joined the company and took on the role of  chief editor. It was during his leadership that in 1905 the first illustrated Petit Larousse was published. The most famous emblem of the Larousse editions is a woman blowing a dandelion flower appearing for the first time in 1890. Created by artist Eugene Grasset, it’s said that the woman was inspired by Claude Augé’s wife when the artist visited their home. Larousse editions with this emblem are highly sought after today.

You can visit Claude Augé’s house in L’Isle-Jourdain in the Gers. It’s a beautiful art deco house, many of the windows have stunning stained glass panels depicting emblems and illustrations from the dictionary including the famous dandelion sower emblem. You can take  guided tour and see many old books from the Larousse collection. Visits are free on Saturday morning when the fabulous market takes place right outside the front door.

Discover gorgeous Gers AKA Gascony – authentic, idyllic and historic…

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