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I was speaking with a francophone colleague in English today and he was groping for an English equivalent of the French word "zizanie" (to describe a conflict between our respective departments).

He seemed to feel that "zizanie" had a different shade of meaning than "discorde" or "désaccord", but wasn't really able to articulate it. Can anyone compare and contrast these terms for me?

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The meanings are close but these words are not necessarily interchangeable.

Désaccord is the softer of the set. It just means there is some disagreement, usually between two parties but it doesn't imply more. That might be just it. Its opposite is accord, agreement. I can be in désaccord about some insignificant thing with a friend, and I can have an accord with my worst enemy.

Discorde is stronger, not only the parties disagree but this is creating a conflictual situation. Its opposite is concorde which is associated with harmony and peace.

Zizanie used to mean not the discord itself, but what is causing it (a bad seed among the good ones). It is nowadays mostly used in the set expression semer la zizanie (to sow the seeds of discord). While it was a literary word rarely used in the conversation, its popularity was strongly boosted by Astérix's La Zizanie, published in 1970 (in English "Asterix and the Roman Agent"), which turned that word from niche to mainstream.

Here are sample sentences showing how these words might differ in context:

You can say: Nous sommes en désaccord à propos de ce contrat but Nous sommes en discorde... would be very odd and Nous sommes en zizanie essentially unheard.

On the other hand, we can say both Ce qu'il veut, c'est semer la zizanie and [...] c'est semer la discorde but semer le désaccord, while not impossible would be dubious.

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There are no additional meanings, and not even a nuance can be found; what can be read in the Larousse is faithfully repeated in the TLFi and in several other dictionaries.

TLFi

internaute

Wiktionnaire

Le Robert

The Free Dictionary

WordReference

Le Dictionnaire

Notre Temps

Académie

Littré

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    Merci! My colleague did mention Astérix and Obelix in his explanation, so maybe it was less about an exact shade of meaning than it was about referencing a specific episode of that comic book. Sep 9, 2021 at 13:01
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    @CanadianYankee Selon la Wikipedia il s'agit exactement de zizanie dans cette histoire d'Astérix et Obélix, rien de plus, rien de moins (discorde, mésintelligence).
    – LPH
    Sep 9, 2021 at 13:31

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