French Expression of the Day: Mauvaise langue

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 29 Oct, 2018 Updated Mon 29 Oct 2018 11:50 CEST
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You'll hope no one ever accuses you of being a "bad tongue" in France.


Why do I need to know mauvaise langue?

Whether you want to call someone out as a mauvaise langue or steer well clear of them, this expression sums up someone you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on.

What does it mean?

Mauvaise language literally means 'bad tongue' or ‘bad language’, or ‘wrong language’ and it can be used in this sense for example, les livres sont dans la mauvaise langue (‘The books are in the wrong language.’)

But its idiomatic meaning is a bit more subtle.

If the word langue is taken to mean ‘words’ and mauvais to mean ‘nasty’ or even ‘evil’, you won’t be surprised to learn a mauvaise langue is a way to describe gossips and who say unkind or even slanderous things behind other people’s backs.

It can also be used in a more light-hearted less accusatory way of describing someone who has bad mouthed someone. Inthi sense in English you could translate it as a 'mischief-maker' or a 'scandalmonger'. 

An old synonym langue serpentine (‘serpent tongue’) gives an even clearer idea of the slippery, slimy nature of a mauvaise langue.

It’s normally used with the verb être, like elle est mauvaise langue (‘she’s a horrible gossip’) or ils sont mavaises langues (‘they are horrible gossips’), with an added to the end of mauvaise in the plural.

Apparently one of this expression’s first appearances in print was in 19thcentury novelist Charlotte Younge’s work. But for a more modern take, check out the TV show Mauvaise Langue which gives a straight-talking, funny summary of the day’s news stories in French. 

How can I use mauvaise langue?

Sans vouloir être mauvaise langue, je pense qu'il n'est pas à sa place.

Without wanting to sound like a gossip, I think he’s out of place here.

Les mauvaises langues disent qu'il ne fera pas l'affaire.

The gossips are saying that he won’t get the job done.

(The above examples are from

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The Local 2018/10/29 11:50

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