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I noticed that Starbucks claims that it's small Java Chip drink has only "150 calories", in French - the lowercase version.

Is that supposed to automatically mean kilocalories, or, are they making a bogus claim on the energy loaded in this?

For even more fun, this is in the context of Quebec French. I'm also curious if there is a distinction between uppercase and lowercase versions in other regions' French, if there is any difference.

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2 Answers 2

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In both French and English, there are two units called calorie, with a lowercase C except as required at the start of a sentence. Which one is meant depends on the context.

  • In a physics or chemistry context, a calorie (Fr.: calorie) is an amount of energy equal to 4.184 J, or (if indicated by the context) the amount of energy required to warm one gram of water by 1 degree Kelvin in certain temperature and pressure conditions. This meaning is sometimes disambiguated by specifying small calorie (Fr.: petite calorie).
  • In a physiology or nutrition context, a calorie (Fr.: calorie) is an amount of energy equal to a kilocalorie (Fr.: kilocalorie), i.e. 1000 small calories. The SI prefix in the word kilocalorie forces the physics interpretation of the calorie stem. This meaning is sometimes disambiguated by specifying large calorie (Fr.: grande calorie). Occasionally, in both French and English, the word is spelled with a capital C, but this is not very common.

The Québecois Grand Dictionnaire terminologique lists both meanings under different subject headings, like the French Trésor de la langue française.

Physical units, unlike French or English words, are case-sensitive; 1 cal is one small calorie and 1 Cal is one large calorie.

So from a linguistic point of view, “150 calories” (Fr.: “150 calories”) is correct to mean 150 kcal. It is not a bogus claim, but it can be viewed as purposefully unclear.

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Don't you mean 150 kcal? I'm a little confused. –  Stéphane Gimenez Nov 4 '13 at 21:10

Without sugar, a cup of coffee (150 ml) brings 2 kcal if ground, 4 kcal if in powder.

A lump of sugar (5 g) brings 20 kcal.

"Only" 150 kcal seems to mean that the cup is very large, and heavily sugared. It's about the consumption during half an hour of quick walking.

One needs, as an average, 2 500 kcal daily ; one single coffee covers more than 15% of this amount.

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2  
How does that answer the question? –  Alexis Pigeon Nov 2 '13 at 18:03
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@Alexis Pigeon J'ai compris la question comme implicitement "Est-ce une fraude, si peu !", pas réellement une question d'unité (à laquelle Gilles a très bien répondu, n'omettant que de dire que l'unité légale est le Joule). Ma réponse était que c'est au contraire énorme. –  ex-user2728 Nov 2 '13 at 18:19
    
My main question was about the units and capitalization, when used in the middle of a sentence. Still, it's fascinating to also learn about how little energy a standard coffee + 1 lump of sugar provides VS Starbuck's product! I would recommend that the -1's be reversed because the insight on the nutritional value of coffee is also useful. PS. "Java Chip" is definitely loaded with sugar, so the 150 Calories level makes sense. –  starlocke Nov 4 '13 at 21:07
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Considering this is a Q&A site about the French language and its usage, it completely eludes me how this could be understood as a nutritional question, or why it wouldn't be immediately closed as off-topic if it were. –  Kareen Nov 4 '13 at 22:05
    
As this is French language Q&A, this is a bit of-subject, but people should stop believing that physical exercise will burn enough nutrient to make you slim down. If you are a couch potato you will have a hard time burning an additional 500 KJ in one hour. This is 30g of sugar. But you will build muscle that will burn Joules during the 23 hour of non-exercising. –  Madlozoz May 30 at 6:58

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