Category Archives: Language

French Words: Gourmande

January 17, 2017

French Words: Gourmande |

The first couple times we went back to France my language abilities were, shall we say, lacking. Outside of bonjour, au revoir, and oui, I couldn’t say much nor carry on a conversation.

This made it tough to dine with our French family and friends. At first the monsieur would translate for me, but at one point it became a chore and interrupted conservation so I was left to my own devices. This usually meant intense focus on the plate in front of me or excusing myself to the couch where I’d promptly fall asleep.

During one dinner, two family members were in a deep conversation. It looked fascinating so I nudged the hubs and asked him what they were talking about. After listening in for a few moments he said, “Oh, they’re talking about local chefs and their impressive repertoire.” Forty minutes later they were talking so much more intensely that I was sure they had moved on to another topic. “Non,” Arnaud reassured me, “they are still talking about local cuisine.”

That’s one of the many things I love about the French; they are deeply passionate about food and find great joy in eating. So many of the French people in my life have self-defined as a gourmande (pronounced gore-mahn-dd) that I’ve lost count. By the way, gourmande is the feminine version of the word; the masculine version is gourmand and is pronounced similarly but without the “d” at the end.

You’re probably familiar with this word since we also use it in English. However, our definition of gourmand has a negative twinge and conjures up the image of a glutton eating copious amounts of food, which says a lot about our culture’s issues with food more than anything.

Moi? As we all know, I’m becoming more French by the minute so I’m going to continue embracing the more positive definition of gourmande. This means less weird American food issues and more delicious French meals in my future, which is definitely something I can get behind.

P.S. How to say cheers when you’re dining à la française and a fancy dinner party menu for a celebration.

French Words: Chin-Chin (or How to Say Cheers In French)

September 13, 2016

French Words: Chin-Chin (or How to Say Cheers In French) |

The act of saying cheers in France is serious business. There are subtle rules built on years of tradition that turn a simple act into a cherished ritual.

First, you must wait for everyone to be served. Then, you raise your drink and say cheers while being sure to clink glasses with everyone at the table. This seems easy enough.

However, here’s where it gets hard. While clinking, it’s extremely important that you 1) do not cross someone else’s arm to clink another person’s glass, 2) look everyone in the eye when your glasses meet, and 3) acknowledge everyone in the group whether it’s an actual cheers or a head nod from across the table.

Sound stressful? It kind of is! No worries though because the French have no problem correcting your behavior so you end up learning pretty quick. Plus, practice makes perfect, non? Just in case you need another excuse for wine time (wink wink).

Now that we’ve gone over how to cheers in France, let’s go over the French words you say. You can always use santé, a vôtre santé, or à la vôtre. These expressions basically wish the other person good health and are regularly used.

However, being a laidback Californian gal, I prefer to use the more casual chin-chin, which is sometimes spelled tchin-tchin. It is pronounced cheen cheen, which is kinda cute in my book. Perhaps it’s a repetition thing because I also love the word boui-boui. Je ne sais pas…

Above all, I love the chin-chin because it means one thing: Drinks are present and it’s time to celebrate. So, next time you raise a glass, do it the French way with a casual chin-chin!

P.S. A great wine from Trader Joe’s to cheers with and great music to play in the background.

French Words: Youpi and Other French Interjections

July 5, 2016


While playing a round of Heads Up! last week, we got a particularly hard word right before the buzzer sounded and I exclaimed, “Ho ho!” to which one of our funniest friends replied, “Did Santa Clause just walk in here or something?”

Seemingly overnight French interjections had crept into my brain and overwrote all the English ones. Gone are the woo hoo’s and ah ha’s, which have now been replaced by the youpi’s and ho ho’s. Maybe I’m getting closer to 80% or 90% French?

Since they are kind of funny and pop up regularly in French conversation, I thought a list of ten expressive French words and how they are used may be useful for other Francophiles and aspiring Francophones.

Aïe: Similar to how we’d use “ouch” to express pain or worry. Pronounced like the letter “i”.

Bof: Equivalent of hmmph or meh that usually proceeds a sentence where you either don’t know, don’t care, or are indifferent. Pronounced like bo-fff.

Chut: Shush or shhh. A way to quiet someone down or try to shut them up. Pronounced like shhh-uu-t, but keep in mind the “uu” is very quick and brief.

Eh: Instead of uh or um, the French say eh. Fun fact: Spanish speakers also use eh in the same way. Pronounced like the “ey” in hey.

Oh là là: In English, we use this word to express how someone or something is stylish, however the French typically use it as a surprise reaction to something positive or negative. The “oh” is sometimes pronounced like ooo or oh while là là is pronounced simply as la la.

Ouf: Used the way English speakers would say whew or phew. It’s pronounced somewhere between uf and oof.

Oups: Easily translated as oops. More or less said the same way we say oops in English.

Ho ho: The French ha ha. Sometimes it’s said as “oh ho ho”, which is even more like something Santa Clause would say. Pronounced exactly how it looks.

Hop là: This word is used in so many ways that it doesn’t have a clear English equivalent. Sometimes it’s used to accentuate movement like when you pick up a little kid and say alley oops or when you reach for something that is very high. It could also be used the way we say here we go, there we go, or that’s the end. Pronounced like ope-la.

Youpi: Equivalent of yippee or woo hoo. Pronounced like you-pee. You pee, get it! #mindofafifthgrader

P.S. Learn how to say a French cuss word or check out how the French say the word lush.

French Words: Putain de Merde

April 5, 2016

French Words: Putain de Merde |

Inevitably, the first words you learn in another language are the bad words, like some odd language hazing tradition that is practiced the world over.

Let me apologize for waiting so long to share my favorite French cuss word, putain de merde, which is pronounced like poo-tahn duh mare-d. This expletive combines putain (a word that means whore but is used the way Americans say the f word) and marries it with merde (which translates to shit). Together it means “effing shit”.

Used on their own, these two words are said often and are fairly harmless as far as bad words go. Someone cut you off on the freeway? Putain. Run out of wine at the dinner party? Merde.

Or perhaps your son is getting married in an hour and you’ve been called back to the dressing room to discover that the zipper on your daughter-in-law’s wedding dress has broken permanently. “Putain de merde,” you say as you lift a cigarette to your lips. Then, you hunker down, tap your prior life as a seamstress, and sew her into the dress a record speed.

I would strongly advise that you do not use putain de merde regularly nor in front of your mother-in-law. It’s a bit vulgar and reserved for particularly annoying or maddening situations. For instance, when the zipper on your wedding dress breaks right before you are about to be wed because, oui oui, that happened to me.

French Words: Boui-Boui

December 29, 2015

French Words: Boui-Boui |

Two years ago the French family was here for the holidays. We spent our days fixing up the house (because that’s what family is for) and our nights enjoying delicious meals that ran on for hours (because that’s what French family is for).

My French was pretty minimal at that point so I spent most my time listening intently and trying to make sense of it all. One word kept popping up so I finally asked what it meant.

Boui-boui is slang for a little place that could be anything from a tiny shop or restaurant to a small café or bar. Though the French use the adjective petit like it’s going out of style, I’ve almost always heard these two paired together (i.e. un petit boui-boui).

The word boui comes from a dialect in the Bresse region and refers to small structure that houses ducks and geese. Some online sources specifically describe it as a place that is inexpensive and mediocre. Think dive bar or a greasy diner.

The best part about boui-boui is the way it is pronounced. You say bwee-bwee with little-to-no pause between the first bwee and the second. It kind of sounds like baby talk, which is what makes it so darn cute and probably why it’s one of my favorite French words ever.

French Words: Pompette

September 29, 2015

French Words: Pompette |

To know me is to know that I am a lush.

Just the other day a co-worker called me out, “I feel like all your stories start with: This one time I was in a bar…” While he’s absolutely correct, the funny thing is he’s ten years younger so shouldn’t it be the other way around? Also, note to self: re-evaluate storytelling policy at work.

Anyway, I digress. I’m the lush who received all alcohol-related gifts at my bridal shower and all wine-related cards for my last birthday. So, inevitably, my French friends like to tease me with alcohol-related words.

Pompette is a cute way to say that you are tipsy. It’s an adjective that reminds me of a bubbly cheerleader who’s had a few glasses of champagne (probably something to do with the whole pom pom thing).

It’s also way nicer than pochetronne (or pochtron for guys), the nickname given to me by our first French roommate. This word translates as drunkard, and conjures up an image of a village drunk with a potbelly and a big, red nose.

For obvious reasons, I prefer the pompette teasing to the pochetronne teasing. However, I’m naturally easy-going and will go along with either nickname, especially if I’m a little tipsy on account of some good, cheap wine.

French Words: Mon Gars

July 15, 2015

French Words: Mon Gars |

I am Californian, therefore I say dude.

After many years of trying to quit, I have finally managed to kick my dude habit. I can’t remember the last time I said it at work and it very rarely slips out in my personal life. But get me on the beach with a beer in my hand and, inevitably, it comes out. No way dude! Dude, are you serious? I am so stoked, dude. Yup, just call me Keanu.

In French, mon gars is somewhat of a dude equivalent. Mon is pronounced how it looks (kinda like “Jamaican mon” if you need some help) while gars is pronounced like car without the s (oh zee French with those tricky consonants at the end of the word that no one pronounces).

From what I understand, it’s short for mon garçon (the French word for my boy) and is a casual word that’s often used between male friends. So don’t go saying it your boss or mother-in-law! The verdict is still out on whether you can use it with your girlfriends, but I say go for it and be a rule breaker.

While dude is the Californian English translation, it also works as a substitute for man, bro, guy, son, or mate (if you’re Brit or an Ozzie). I even saw one website translate is as playa, which I found incredibly hilarious.

By the way, today is Bastille Day so vive la révolution, mon gars!