The Grand dictionnaire terminologique, part of the site of the Office québécois de la langue française, is a great resource. As mj klein of Metrolingua (where I found the link) says:

You can look up French definitions, meanings between French and English…, and between French and Latin (which somebody out there must need). Sometimes if you look up a word, they will give you categories to choose from so that you can get a more appropriate and specific meaning, and they can also give you several synonyms.

Just for the heck of it, I looked up québécois, and I learned something about the history of usage:

Le nom Québécois, attesté pour la première fois en 1754, a d’abord été utilisé pour désigner les habitants de la ville de Québec (dans ce sens, on le trouvait aussi orthographié Québecquois), alors que les habitants de la province étaient appelés Canadiens français. C’est à partir de la Révolution tranquille, dans les années 1960, que Québécois fut employé pour désigner à la fois les habitants de la province et ceux de la ville de Québec.

(To summarize, the word was used only for inhabitants of the city until the ’60s, when it was extended to the entire province.)


  1. Wow, thanks for the mention. I was going to send you the link, but I figured you already knew about it.

  2. Janet Egan says

    Timely posting for me. I was just trying to figure out if I was the only remaining idiot who thought the English equivalent of “duvet” was “down”. This Grand dictionnaire confirms that duvet can be translated as the down on a bird. Whew! See, I was reading a species description of snowy owl (harfang des neiges) on a Quebec bird list web site and Google’s little “translate this page” thing translated “Les juvéniles sont uniformément bruns, avec des restes de duvet blanc éparpillés.” as “The youthful ones are uniformly brown, with scattered remainders of white sleeping bag.” So, I checked other snowy owl descriptions and every one of them translated duvet as sleeping bag. For that matter, Google translates harfang des neiges as harfang of snows but that’s a whole ‘nother story (apparently the English word for this bird in fact used to be harfang). Anyway, a random sampling of online French to English dictionaries also had sleeping bag as the first meaning of duvet and down as the third or fourth. Glad to find a dictionary that reassures me I am not crazy. Though I am having fun picturing baby owls in sleeping bags up there in the frozen north of Quebec. 🙂

  3. I highly recommend the GDT (or, as we say in French, le [?e de te]). Not only because I’m a Translator and a francophile fanatique, but because it’s accurate AND free! An additional tool is also available via the Government of Canada’s webpage. The name of the tool, Termium Plus, is normally a pay site; however, you can bypass this by clicking here (or by selecting the Translated Terms option via the Advanced Search function). Where the GDT is hosted and maintained by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), Termium Plus is operated by the Translation Bureau of Canada. The GDT’s biggest limitation is that, unlike Termium, it doesn’t always allow multiple word searches (ex: expressions).
    And while we’re on the subject of French, I should also mention another powerful online tool. It’s an online grammar and spellchecker for speakers of French (native or not). The tool, is a writing assistant rather than a corrector. Rather than correcting grammar and spelling errors automatically, it flags mistakes thereby allowing the user to introduce their own changes. It’s saved me a few times before sending e-mails, letters, etc.

  4. and between French and Latin (which somebody out there must need).
    Well, I need it, but as it turns out here “Latin” refers “scientific names.”

  5. I’m not a francophile fanatique, but I sometimes translate French and definitely find Termium Plus helpful and postworthy–thanks Arrogant.

  6. Janet Egan says

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the Latin feature is very handy for us birders.

  7. Janet: Thanks for mentioning harfang, an odd-sounding word in both French and English; I of course went straght to the OED, where it turns out it’s originally a Swedish word: harfång, from har(e ‘hare’ + fånga ‘to catch.’
    AP: Thanks for the added links!

  8. Thanks a lot! I’m in a bilingual French/English course, so I really need that one.

  9. In my experience some borrowed words in Russian sound the same as the foreign source but after many years of use acquired different, sometimes the opposite, meaning (“agressive” is first that comes to mind)
    Could it be the same with “duvet”? I find it strange that online translators interpreted it as “sleeping bag”. Sleeping bags, in my experience, almost never quilted with down; on the other hand, “duvet cover” is often referred to a piece of bed linen intended to envelope comforter/blanket quilted with dawn. Still, I’ve never seen a comforter itself called a duvet or down in English (in Russian there is a word пуховик, meaning just that)
    It’s a mere curiosity of a housekeeping nature, of course; my French is non-existent – to my deep regret.

  10. “Sleeping bags, in my experience, almost never quilted with down;”
    Tatyana, I wish I were as young as you! Army sleeping bags used to be made of down, until that was phased out in the early 80’s. I remember one guy complaining that his bag had only about “one pterodactyl feather” left in it.
    Are ‘down’ and ‘duvet’ some kind of (highly irregular) cognates – maybe non-Latin, non-Saxon or Frankish?

  11. ‘duvet’ is an item that seems to have acquired more than its fair share of names. I call it a ‘quilt’ or ‘duvet’, while in Australia (at least in Victoria) it’s a ‘doona’. As I understand it, the same thing is a ‘comforter’ in the US. Funny how that happens.

  12. Jim, it seems both ‘down’ and ‘duvet’ come from Old Norse ‘dúnn’.

  13. Andrew Dunbar says

    I seem to remember doona gaining popularity in the 1980s in Australia. Before that in my house we still used blankets and those other things went by continental quilt or comforter, though there may be sime distinction between those. Apparently doona comes from a trademark but I don’t know how famous the product was since cannot recall ever seeing it used that way.

  14. My attempt at a fuller translation of that paragraph, for those who need:

    The name Québécois, first attested in 1754, was first used to designate the inhabitants of Québec City (in which sense it was also spelled Québécquois), so that the inhabitants of the province were called Canadiens français [French Canadians]. It’s starting with the Révolution tranquille in the 1960s that Québécois started to be used to designate at once the inhabitants of the province and those of the city of Québec.

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