Why are many international organizations commonly abbreviated in their French translation?



A couple examples of this:

“SI units”, or the system of units based on the fundamental units of measurement (seconds, meters, amperes, candelas, moles, kilograms, kelvin) is short for *Système international*.

“FIFA”, the corrupt international soccer organization is short for *Fédération Internationale de Football Association* (same as FIBA)

Is this just a coincidence?

In: Other

The measurements were decided at the conference of weights and measures, which is always held in Paris.


David McCullough wrote a good book, *The Greater Journey* which tells how in the 1800s, Paris was the centre of the intellectual world. Regardless of your field of study, Paris was the place to learn it. One corollary of this situation was that French became the common language of higher learning. The Russian aristocracy spoke better French than Russian. Also also, pretty much every major global society was formed in Paris, and many of them are still there. The FIA is another example. And don’t forget that it was the French who invented the metric system after the revolution, so naturally they got to name it.

For about a 150 year period from the mid-1600s to the very early 1800’s, France was by far the most powerful country on the European continent. One result of this was that French became the primary international communication language in Europe, similar to how English is the global language of business, diplomacy, and academics today.

France declined after the fall of Napoleon, but the French language kept its status as a prestigious language in the Western world through the 1800s and up until World War II.

FIFA was an international organization founded in Europe in 1904. It makes perfect sense that an international organization founded in that time and place used French as its primary working language.

If we see it from another angle, SI and FIFA both sound better than IS and IFAF. But in all seriousness, SI is rarely said in English and FIFA just stuck. Yet the majority of International Organizations abbreviations are actually in English. English has always been the dominant language; French is just in the same tier as German, since 1871.

France has been the western center of science and research for quite some time. The term for the default language that lets you discuss on a common ground (what today is English for the western world, as you see in this comment) is called Lingua Franca, which is latin for “the French language”.