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French Word of the Day: Hurluberlu

It looks like a random bunch of letters, but this French word is fun as well as useful.

French Word of the Day: Hurluberlu
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know hurluberlu?

As well as being fun to say, hurluberlu is a useful word that you can use to describe people.

What does it mean?

Hurluberlu – roughly pronounced urr-loob-err-lu – looks like a random mix of letters that make little sense. Fittingly for a weird-sounding word, un hurluberlu is a way to describe a ‘weirdo’, an ‘eccentric’ or an ‘oddball’.

Although no one knows exactly where the noun hurluberlu comes from, it does appear in works by 16th century writer François Rabelais, who was known for his creative use of words and even sometimes for just making them up.

Some also think it might be related to the English ‘hurly-burly’ (defined as ‘busy’ or ‘boisterous’), although the two words have completely different meanings. 

You might hear someone say Quel hurluberlu! (What a weirdo!) about someone they have seen or met.

Obviously, there’s no polite way to describe someone as an oddball, and calling someone un hurluberlu isn’t exactly a compliment, so it’s probably best to wait until the hurluberlu you want to describe is out of earshot, however the word itself is not vulgar or offensive. 

Depending on the gender of the person you want to describe hurluberlu can be spelled without an ‘e’ for male eccentrics (un hurluberlu) or with an ‘e’ (une hurluberlue) for female oddballs.

A good alternative is un type bizarre or une excentrique.

Use it like this

Marie est un peu écervelée, une hurluberlue quoi. — Marie is a bit of a scatterbrain, basically an oddball. 

Son copain est un hurluberlu, et à cause de ça ses parents sont inquiets. — Her boyfriend is strange, and because of that her parents are worried.

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For members


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.