Are these the 'best' 23 words in the French language?

Oliver Gee
Oliver Gee - [email protected]
Are these the 'best' 23 words in the French language?
Photos: Pixabay, The Earful Tower, Tom/Flickr

To mark International Francophonie Day, here are the "best" words in the French language, from 'dragonfly' to 'hardware shop', according to learners.


The French language can be one of the most frustrating of things... but there's no denying that some words are beautiful, mellifluous, and evocative. 

With this in mind, here are the top 23 words in the language, according to listeners of The Earful Tower podcast.

1. Pamplemousse (grapefruit), says Veronique who runs French Girl in Seattle. "It appeals to all my senses: I love the way the word sounds, the taste, and the appearance of a grapefruit… and I love the very distinctive scent," she says.

2. Bof (a disinterested sound people make), says Paris tour guide Corey Frye. "The three most important letters in French," he says. See his top tip for each Paris arrondissement here.

3. Quincaillerie, a hardware shop, says Facebook follower Joey Yanity. "It’s pretty fun to say" (and almost impossible to spell).

4. Merde (meaning shit), says author Stephen Clarke. Stephen’s numerous novels have the word merde (shit) in the title, so it’s no surprise he likes this word. 

5. Formidable (excellent): "It has a finesse to it in French, and makes me think of the Stromae song," says Paris-based author Lindsey Tramuta.

The Stromae song:

6. Menilmontant, a place in Paris that means a lot to Samuel Barrantes, an American writer in France, as it reminds him of music his father used to play. Here’s the song he was talking about, by Charles Trenet. 

7. Rabibocher, meaning "to get back together" or "patch things up" after a break-up, says Carolyn Gorman, Aussie expat in Paris. "I like the way it sounds and rolls off the tongue." 

8. Aspirateur, meaning vacuum cleaner. "It just sounds so much more interesting than the English equivalent," says US expat Shelly Bittler.

9. Couilles, says British comedian Paul Taylor from What The Fuck France. This word means "balls" (as in testicles). Why does Paul like the word? "Because no anglophone can pronounce it properly," he says. 

10. Vachement, meaning "really really" (or literally: cowly), says US writer in France Lisa Anselmo. "In France, a country famous for its cheese, it’s not terribly surprising a word like "cowly" would creep in," she says.

11. Trottoir (footpath), says Kate Goodbody, a Brit in Paris who runs the More Native than the Natives blog. "I love the idea of people 'trotting' down the street," she says.

12. Papillon, says Mike Cowan, an expat in Paris. "It means butterfly and bow-tie, two beautiful things and a beautiful word," he says.

Photo: Queerbubbles/WikiCommons

13. Pompette, a pleasant word for "tipsy", says Lina Nordin, a designer in Paris. "It sounds like the name of a poodle."

14. Rouflaquettes, meaning "sideburns", says Sam Davies, a journalist in Paris. "It doesn't sound like any English word."

15. Libellule, says Jennifer Greco who writes the blog Chez Loulou. "For the fact that I love dragonflies and it’s a great word to say," she says.

16. Truc, meaning "thing", says Gail Boisclair who runs PerfectlyParis. "It covers everything, it’s vague, indirect and can refer to anything." 

17. Grenouille (frog), says Coutume cafe’s Tom Clark. "If you can pronounce it, you can speak French. And the word captures the French spirit"

18. Dégueulasse (disgusting), says Ben McPartland, the editor of The Local France. "Sounds like a character from Lord of the Rings. And it can be shortened to degeu, which sounds as disgusting as the what the word means."

19. Ancre/Encre (anchor/ink), says Fabien Renault, a Breton in Paris. "The words both mean a lot," he says, "As literature and travel are important to me."

20. En fait (actually)."You just chuck it on the end of everything and it works," says Matt from movie masters in Paris Lost in Frenchlation.

21. Flâneur, an aimless walker, says Facebook follower Tami Tamir-Shaughnessey. "It’s my favourite thing to do in Paris."

22. Déchetterie (a dump, a tip), says Facebook follower Jim Carmichael. "I like the way it rolls off the tongue," he says.

23. Inoubliable (unforgettable), says podcast host Oliver Gee. "I like the sound of the word, it sounds like a foreigner imitating a French person…"

Listen to the full episode below, check out more from The Earful Tower here, and follow on Facebook here.



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