Faux-amis are so much fun… Since I interpret for health insurance companies, state health insurance plans, welfare programs in several countries, human resources departments for large companies, the word “benefits” comes up dozens of times a day (or as we like to say in French: 36 fois par jour). And in some contexts, the homonym works, in others not…
The etymology is quite clear:
From Late Middle English benefytt, benefett, alteration (due to Latin bene-) of Middle English benfet, bienfet, bienfait (“good or noble deed”), from Anglo-Norman benfet (“well-done”), Middle French bienfait, from Old French bienfet, bienfait (“foredeal, favour”), from past participle of Old French bienfaire (“to do good, do well”), from bien (“well”) + faire (“to do”), modeled after Latin benefactum (“good deed”). (Source: Wiktionary)
Ex. Experience the anti-aging benefits of these natural ingredients for your skin! // Retrouvez les bienfaits anti-vieillissement de ces ingrédients naturels pour votre peau !
Now when the context is “social benefits” or “insurance benefits”, the proper translations are as follow:
In order to be eligible for State benefits, you have to reside in the U.S. for at minimum of 5 years. // Pour avoir droit aux allocations de l’État, vous devez résider aux É.-U. pour une période minimum de 5 ans.
Once you have worked for the company at least 90 days, you will be able to access our insurance benefits. // Une fois que vous aurez travaillé pour la société pendant au moins 90 jours, vous aurez accès à nos avantages sociaux.
Some of my French-speaking callers who have lived in the USA for a while just say “benefits” or “bénéfices” in “Franglais” to allude to the above. But it is incorrect, or rather, it is against “proper usage” since the word “bénéfice” can actually also mean an “advantage”. Although both words come from the same root, the proper usage of “bénéfices” is as follows:
The company turned in some very good profits this year. // La société a rapporté de très bons bénéfices cette année.
The proceeds/ profits for your transaction will be sent to you by wire transfer. // Les recettes/ bénéfices de votre transaction vous seront envoyé(e)s par virement bancaire.
Unfortunately, in our economy, because of decreased bénéfices, companies have had to cut back on their benefits, whether medical and supplemental insurance, paid vacation days and company-sponsored retirement plans. That is the current reality… The best way to forget about all of it though, it to take a good Dr. Kneipp lavender mineral salt bath, and enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy.
Have a great week!