And if a single word was enough on its own to sum up the French malaise? For the American daily Foreign Police, this term exists: it is “seum”.
Originally, “this word refers to the whole spectrum of adolescent bubbling, from anger to disappointment, including disgust”. But it has become the expression of “societal malaise” which is found even in the political landscape of France.
The “seum” comes from the Maghreb culture, says Foreign Police : it comes from the Arabic term “week”, which means “poison, venom”. Initially used in the slang of the suburbs – therefore associated with the stereotypes that haunt the French collective imagination, namely “immigrants, rap, riots” –, the term became popular in 2018, thanks to the FIFA World Cup. The media used it extensively to describe the sporting spirit of Belgians, “the most despised neighbors of the French”.
However, the “seum” has something timeless about it and fits perfectly into the French tradition.
“From Baudelaire’s ‘spleen’, to express melancholy, to all those words that have entered the English language, like ‘boredom’ and ‘faintness’the French have the art of expressing their discomfort. But the ‘seum’, so widespread in everyday language that it invites itself into the coverage of the presidential campaign, perfectly captures current political life: this feeling of dissatisfaction and resignation now affects all social classes.
In a survey by the CSA Institute published at the end of 2021, 75% of respondents believed France was in decline. The good economic health of the country does nothing about it: “The French remain indifferent”, and the pandemic has not made things better.
This ‘seum’ has the merit of uniting all categories of the population: no longer just reserved for the inhabitants of the districts, since it has also entered the vocabulary of the “yellow vests”, it reflects a feeling of downgrading both at the personal level than national, explains the journalist. Some, however, shun the “seum”, too light for their taste “to reflect the seriousness of the current political chaos”.