French Word of the Day: Mince

Today’s French Word of the Day is another one of those pesky false friends that has absolutely nothing to do with beef. Here's a look at what it does mean.

French Word of the Day: Mince

Why have we chosen mince?

Mince is one of the many tricky false friends that you come across in French and one that is used a lot in everyday conversation. 

So, what does it mean?

Mince means slim, slender or thin in the physical sense (for people and objects) but it also has an alternative euphemistic usage.

Mince! is shouted out by French speakers who want to stop themselves from using the gros mot (swear word) merde. In the same way as English speakers bite their lip and say “ssssugar!” or “ssshoot!” rather than yelling “shit!”, or Germans say the just as harsh-sounding “Scheibenkleister” rather than screaming “Scheisse!”.

According to Wordreference, you also have at your disposal the equally mild Mince alors!, used in a similar way to zut! to express surprise like in British English 'Blimey!', Aussie English 'Crikey!' or American English 'Holy cow!'.

Mince alors can also express disappointment, a bit like saying 'Damn!' in English. For example, Mince alors! J’ai oublié de debrancher mon fer à repasser! as in 'Damn! I forgot to unplug my iron'.

There’s also the very handy expression ce n’est pas une mince affaire which translates as 'it’s no mean feat' or 'it’s no trivial matter', such as with the headline below: “giving birth during the academic term, no trivial matter”. 

There's also the expression mince espoir, which means a 'slim chance', used in the headline below (Hulot's Resignation: Slim chance of an 'electric shock' for the green movement).

In a similar vein mince can be used as an adjective to refer to something meager or poor, such as Vince a obtenu de minces résultats pour un tel effort (Vince got poor marks considering how much effort he put in).

You can also talk about “a family of low financial means” as “une famille de mince revenus”, to define something or someone as scant or meager in terms of wealth.


Alternative euphemisms include miel and mercredi.



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French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

This French expression has little to do with storage devices.

French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

Why do I need to know c’est le box?

Because you might have described your adolescent bedroom this way.

What does it mean?

C’est le box roughly pronounced say luh box – comes from the longer expression c’est le boxon, and does not have to do with a container to store things. In reality, c’est le box means either literally or figuratively that something is a mess or disaster.

It is a synonym for the more commonly used French expression c’est le bordel

Both are slang terms that border on being vulgar, are originally references to brothels, and describe disorder or disarray.

The word boxon first appeared in the early 1800s in the form of bocson, which meant cabaret and later “house of tolerance”. Its origins are disputed, but over the past two centuries it has come to be synonymous with a “place of debauchery” and later messiness and disorder.

You can also say “Quel box!” or “Quel Boxon!” to mean “What a mess!” or “What a disaster!”

If you are looking for a less vulgar way to describe a mess, you could instead say “c’est le bazar”.

Use it like this

C’est quand la dernière fois que tu as nettoyé ta chambre ? C’est le box ici. – When was the last time you cleaned your room? It is a disaster in here.

Je ne suis pas la seule personne qui pense que c’est le boxon dans cette ville en ce moment. – I’m not the only person who thinks this city is a mess right now.