Mouth fun to feet fingers – 18 French words you just can’t translate literally

Translating a language literally is never a good idea, but it can be quite funny.

Mouth fun to feet fingers - 18 French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP
Here are some of our favourite examples of when a French word doesn’t quite mean the same thing in English.
Starting with an old classic:
Throat support – Soutien-gorge (Bra)
Ladies, want to buy some nice lingerie? Well don’t forget that French researchers said in 2013 that women would be better off without their “throat support”
Photo:Cristina Fernández/Flickr
Mouth fun – Amuse-bouche (Appetiser)
Want a yummy little treat before dinner? Then why not try a “mouth fun”.
A blue – Un bleu (Bruise)
When you get hurt, the little mark that appears is simply called a “blue” in France. 
Feet fingers – Doigts de pieds (Toes)
What are toes, if not “feet fingers” anyway?
Photo: Josie Hill/Flickr
Pain sufferer – Souffre-douleur (Scapegoat)
Makes more sense than “scapegoat” anyway. 
Stupid thought – pense-bête (Reminder note)
If you really have trouble getting organised in your daily tasks, opt for a “pense-bête” which actually means a reminder.
Master swimmer – Maître-nageur (Lifeguard)
They teach your children how to swim and rescue you in case of danger. What a hero, a real “master swimmer”.
Photo: Andy Poulaine/Flickr
Soft soft – Doudou (Comfort blanket or favourite cuddly toy)
The baby is crying. Where’s his “soft-soft” so he can cuddle with it.
Boss’s work – Chef-d’oeuvre (Masterpiece)
It’s easy to be amazed by a nice painting, especially when it’s the “boss’s work”.
Apple of the earth – Pomme de terre (Potato)
We quite like this one, here at The Local. You say potato, we say earth apple. 

Frenchwoman finds WW1 grenade among her spuds

Photo: AFP
Little washing rats – Raton laveur (Raccoons)
These cute little animals are pretty clean: The French even call them “little washing rats”.
Bald mouse – chauve-souris (bat)
Likewise French has a slightly more elaborate way of describing bats, referring to them as chauve-souris (although really souris ailées – winged mice – would be more accurate).
Joy reducers – Rabat-joie (Party pooper)
In France, party poopers are seen as such a threat they’re called “joy-reducers” or, in another translation they are “joy flaps”.
Break you! Casse-toi (piss off)
Let’s face it, shouting “break you” at someone in English is never going to get your point across.
Minute chicken – Cocotte-minute (Pressure cooker)
Want to cook a nice casserole dish in just a few minutes? Why don’t you try using a “minute casserole” or even “minute chicken”?
Photo: Didriks/Flickr
Dress keeper- Garde-robe (Wardrobe)
For all the fashion-victims out there, you can add new fancy items to your “dress-keeper” after a long day of shopping.
Feet breaker – Casse-pieds (Pain in the backside)
Your neighbour is getting on your nerves. What a “feet-breaker”.
Money carrier – Porte-monnaie (Purse)
Where do you carry your money when you walk in the street? In you “money-carrier” of course.
Another version of this story was published in 2014. 

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.