What Took the French So Long to Create a Word For "French Kiss?

The English refer to “English muffins” simply as “muffins.” The Canadians like to call “Canadian bacon,” “back bacon.” Now, what do the French call a French kiss? If you had asked that question before May 30 of this year, the answer would have been absolutely nothing.

For centuries, there has been no official French word for French kissing. The situation has finally been rectified by the release of the 2014 edition of Le Petit Robert dictionary. When the famous French-language dictionary hit the shelves last Thursday, there were some new additions to the official French vocabulary including the recent slang term “galoche” (French kiss) and its verb form “galocher.”

The French are very careful to maintain the purity of their language, so deciding whether or not a new word is going to be allowed into an official French dictionary is taken very seriously. Every year, Le Petit Robert’s editorial board holds a heated debate over which words will be chosen. The board votes on the final contenders. In the end, only a hundred new words are allowed in. Besides “galoche,” some other new French words included in the dictionary are “clasher” (to clash), “bombasse” (a sexually attractive person), and “Dim-sum” (Cantonese steamed dumplings).

Although until now there hasn’t been a word for the French kiss in the French language, it would be a mistake to assume that the action itself has been missing from French society. "The French have always had many expressions to describe it, such as 'kissing at length in the mouth' (baiser avec la langue), but it's true, we've never had one single word," Laurence Laporte, editorial board director of Le Petit Robert publishing house explained.

The English language term “French kiss” (also sometimes called a “Florentine kiss”) is believed to have been popularized in the English speaking world by soldiers returning from the First World War. At that time, the French had a reputation for their more adventurous sexual practices.

“Galocher” is a slang term that has been around for a while, but it is only now that is has been officially recognized in a French dictionary. The word “galoche” was originally used to describe a type of boot used for ice skating. Laporte said that this makes the new term evocative of the idea of sliding around on ice. Laporte also pointed out that the lack of an official French term for the practice has never stopped the French from French kissing.

Before you ask, the French already have words for such things as “French toast” (le pain perdue, “lost bread”), “French fries” (le pomme de terre frite, “potato fries”), “French bread” (la baguette), “French door” (la porte-fenêtre, “window-door”), “French poodle” (la caniche), “French press” (une cafetière), and “French vanilla” (la vanille bourbon). 

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Evangeline Furton

Evangeline studies English Lit at the Catholic University of America.

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