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No longer say “digital” to talk about new technologies, say “digital”!

If you say “digital” when you talk about a computer, a website or a telephone, you will have to turn your tongue seven times in your mouth and say “digital”. In Tuesday’s Official Journal, the French language enrichment commission indicates in black and white that the English word “digital” must be translated as “digital” in the language of Molière. The end of a long confusion since in good French, if we stick to the etymology, “digital” refers only to the fingers. The use of the term to refer to new technologies is actually a facility of language.

A bad adaptation of the English “digital”

At the origin of this grammatical error, a long-standing battle horse of some defenders of the French language, there is a confusion between Latin, French and English. In ancient Rome, the term “digitus” referred to the fingers. And as we sometimes count on his fingers, the English took the Latin root to create the word “digit”, designating a number. The transformation into “digital” came much later, with the birth of the computer. As the computer language is made up of numbers, sequences of 1s and 0s, English speakers have started to speak of “digital machine”.

When computers landed in France, it would have been necessary to use “numeric”, the word in our vocabulary which refers to numbers, to evoke anything relating to computers. Except that we blindly followed English, as is often the case with the jargon of new technologies. By extension, some have adopted “digital” to talk about the Internet, computers, telephones, connected objects … In short, things that sometimes have nothing to do with the fingers.

A list of expressions to review

As a result, nowadays, the word “digital” designates anything and everything, sometimes used in French, sometimes in English. We thus speak of “digital transformation” to evoke the digitization of a company, of “digital natives” to designate young people born in the 1980s or even, more recently, of “digital nomads” to evoke the employees who move thanks to the telecommuting. A confusion maintained by the dictionaries. In Larousse and Robert, “digital” is presented as a synonym for “digital”.

This time, the commission for the enrichment of the French language has ruled: it is necessary to say “digital” to designate all that is related to data processing, to the virtual one and, more generally, to new technologies. In its definition given in the Official Journal, the term encompasses “all scientific and technical disciplines, economic activities and societal practices based on the processing of digital data”. You no longer have the right to make mistakes … and neither does Europe 1!

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