In the early days of the pandemic I remember reading – and confidently informing the students in my French classes – that “Covid-19” was a feminine noun.
J’ai attrapé la Covid. = I (have) caught Covid.
The reason for this:
Covid is a contraction of Corona–Virus–Disease.
Foreign words that enter the French language are attributed a gender in a logical way. In this case, we are talking about a 'disease', which is maladie in French; a feminine word. The confusion has occurred, however, because virus is a masculine word. It is uncommon for a single word to be made up of more than one noun, so this issue does not usually arise.
The ruling was made by the Académie française, the revered and ancient institution that debates, adjudicates and then imposes its decisions on the francophone world. There is no equivalent in the United Kingdom. The Oxford English Dictionary is the closest thing we have to a definitive voice on the vagaries and convolutions of English usage, but – and this is a huge distinction – it reflects how English is spoken and written, it does not give directives. More a reporter than a rule-maker.
The AF wields a great deal of power in France. What they say, goes. Which is why I am puzzled that the rule is broken at all, and indeed so often. Well respected mainstream news sites such as France24 and RFI.fr often, even routinely, treat Covid as a masculine word.
To prove my point: taken from Ludicweb.fr
In the scheme of things, there are much more important aspects of Covid to worry about than abstractions such as its gender in a foreign language, but such things might be of interest to learners of this beautiful, historic, expressive language.
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Andrew Wenger and the SameSky Languages team