Friday’s French – parapharmacie, paramédical & paramedics

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I was doing a translation today and had to find a solution for the word parapharmacie. A parapharmacie is a shop that sells everything you would find in a French pharmacy except medication, and you usually pay a lot less.


From my FaceBook research today, it seems that there is nothing similar in the UK. I don’t know about the US. Parapharmacies also sell certain brands of dermocosmetics that are not sold in department stores or large supermarkets.

I go there to buy shampoo, skincare products, bandaids and make-up.

In France, there are no pharmacy chains such as Boots the Chemist although some pharmacies may use a central buying office. Most pharmacies are independently owned. The parapharmacies, however, are usually chains. The Leclerc hypermarket and supermarket chain has its own parapharmacie.

The suffix para comes from Ancient Greek παρά  meaning beside; next to, near, from; against, contrary to” which means that there are a lot of very different words starting with para.

Take the word paramédical in French. It applies to healthcare professionals with the except of physicians i.e. ambulance drivers, nurses, nurse’s aides, dental assistants, chiropodists, dental technicians, physiotherapists, opticians, occupational therapists, osteopaths, dieticians, nutritionists, medical secretaries, medical reps, medical laboratory technicians and so on.

A paramedic in English however is a healthcare professional who works in emergency medical situations which means that most paramedics are based in the field in ambulances, emergency response vehicles and specialist mobile units. In the hospital, they may treat injuries. So not the same thing at all. Paramedics are all paramédical but not the opposite is not true.

Parachute, which comes from para and chute (fall) is actually a French word.

A parapluie keeps off the rain. When he was little, my son called it a rainbrella in English which we thought was very cute of course.

So, what did I do about parapharmacie in my translation? Since it was a didactic text aimed at instructors, I was able to explain the term then use parapharmacie in Italics, but it’s not always that simple!

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4 thoughts on “Friday’s French – parapharmacie, paramédical & paramedics”

  1. There are parapharmacies in the UK. The main one is Superdrug, a chain which has 900 stores, only 200 of which has a resident pharmacist. They sell all sorts of health and beauty products (and Superdrug refers to itself as a ‘health and beauty retailer’, not a parapharmacy) as well as quite a few non-prescription drugs, such as paracetamol. I think parapharmacy would be understood by some people in the UK these days, but probably the most used term would be non-dispensing pharmacy. Not everyone would know that term either though.

    1. I was told about Superdrug but was also told that there was always a dispensary – I should have researched further! I think that non-dispensing pharmacy is a good solution for my context. The parapharmacies here don’t sell any drugs, even paracetamol, only hygiene and beauty products. They do have trained sales assistants though.

  2. Hello!
    If I can help with a thing or two…
    In french there a two distinct ‘para’ prefixes, not suffixes…
    -> One comes from the Greak and means ‘beside’
    Found in (as you said) in paramédical, parascolaire, parapublic…
    -> the other one comes from the latin para (imperative for parare = to protect, to shield)
    Found in: parachute, paravent, parasol, parapluie….

    About the paramédical staff you’re right only physicians, pharmacists, dentists are medical staff… and midwives (Sage-femme) too…. ( is that noun polically correct? remember all that fuss in your post “père de famille”…) all the rest are paramédical.

    Basically I think the difference lies in the right to write a prescription, or not. If you can diagnose and write a prescription then you’re ” personnel médical”

    About the english “paramedics” I’m not sure but if some are physicians the french is Urgentistes, if not then it will be ‘secouristes’ (first aid).

    I think it cannot be compared really because the education of a paramedic is probably in between a médecin and a secouriste.

    Different practice here I where hospitals send SMUR ambulances (fully equiped indeed) with physicists (urgentistes) on board.

    Have a nice week-end!

    1. A lot of professional categories are different from one country.

      Sage-femme and midwife do not pose questions of political correctness because the words femme and wife apply to the person who is being attended at birth and not the person doing the attending.

      I had initially decided just to stick with the “para” words with the Greek suffix. I don’t know how I ended up mixing them with parachute and parapluie!

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