French Word of the Week: Internaute

Last night I caught a bit of a documentary on arte about the influence of the Internet on the recent French elections. Francois Bayrou was out in front using the Internet to mobilize voters, and even proposed an Internet debate. Alas, he found — like so many before him — that the Internet still only reaches a tiny fraction of the country’s population. The smartest, best-looking fraction, of course, but still just a fraction. In France, where 85% of the population voted in this last Presidential election, that’s not enough.

People who use the Internet are called, in French, internautes. Shouldn’t this word be brought into English, and even German? Why can’t we all be called Internauts, or Internauten? I hereby announce a world-wide initiative, the Global Internaut Alliance (GIA, not to be confused with the Armed Islamic Group) to make this happen.

Oh, an one other funny thing was the action of French independent-media entrepreneur Karl Zéro. As a gesture of protest against French election law — which forbids the release of vote projections until hours after the polls have closed — he announced himself as a "refugee" in front of the Belgian Embassy in Paris, so that he could post the projections on his website. They let him inside, and he went straight to a computer — only to find out that the Internet had crashed everywhere in France owing to huge demand for election information. Or, least, that’s what they told him…

7 thoughts on “French Word of the Week: Internaute

  1. Sure! If you have the word “astronaut”, the russians have the cosmonauts (Космонавт), why not “internaut”? (btw: “internauta” in Portuguese)

    As an astronaut is someone that “sails” with his/her spaceship “internaut” it is someone that “navigates” in the internet.

    The “-nau-” from these french, english, russian and portuguese words comes from the Sanscrit “naus”, latin “navis”, which means “ship”: in English a “nao” is another name for a carrack: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naus

    But if the sailors had naus, the astronauts spacecrafts, what is the “internaut´s ship” into the World Wide Web? the computer? the cable?

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  2. Over in that strange, faraway land called The Rest Of The World people using the Internet are called “people”, whoa way radical go figure that. You know with that sort of tactic (calling people “people”) any Internet activity gains that air of being the default thing to do, and the paper-based elite can’t very well have that.

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  3. French Amazon also greets its customers on newsletters with “Cher Amazonaut”. Sounds so much more charming than “Dear Amazon customer”.

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  4. Oh, the French and computers! You remind me poor German of the first time I had to read French software manuals: Not only do they call a PC an “ordinateur”; there are other things like a byte being an “octet”, hence the abbreviation MO doesn’t mean “magneto-optical” as in the rest of the civilized world, but it’s a mega-octet. Megabyte, that is. Yes, hard disk storage capacities were measured in Megabytes back in those good old days, and the internet had wires. Wouldn’t like to know how they call a wireless LAN.

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