The Academie Francaise is the governing body of the French language. In 1990, the agency voted to make some official changes to the language, but that any and all changes would be optional and acceptable side by side with the old ways. The Academie wanted to give French speakers plenty of time to adapt. Plenty of time. Those changes are going into effect in September 2016, with the changes reflected in new school textbooks across France. Reminded of this fact by the French education ministry, many French speakers are treating the changes like they are nothing short of catastrophic.
Among the changes: the elimination of the circumflex. It’s the ^, the accent or punctuation mark that looks like a little hat or a triangle. It appears above the “i” or “u” in thousands of French words, and it’s literally a trace of history. The ^ is used to note that a letter that was once in the word has been eliminated, but to remind the speaker of it so that they pronounce it properly. But now the ^, like the letters it replaced, is gone, too.
The other sea change: about 2,400 French words will have their spelling simplified. For example oignon (onion) is losing its “i” and becoming ognon. (Ironically, if this had been done in the past, a ^ would have replaced that “i”.)
The third major category of changes is the elimination of the hyphen. Mille-patte, le week-end and porte-monnaie will now be millepatte, le weekend, and portemonnaie, respectively. (Those words mean centipede, weekend, and purse.)
These changes are meant to make French easier to use, but many French speakers are not happy with the changes. National Assembly representative Eric Ciotti called the changes “a dumbing down of French,” while French chef Pascal Sanchez calls reforme orthographe (spelling reform) a “glorification of mediocrity.”