Why do I need to know ta gueule?
It’s one of the french language’s most common and basic verbal attacks, and knowing it will help you to understand when a situation is becoming tense. Just be careful about using it yourself, as ta gueule (pronounced 'ta gœl', see video below) is usually unpleasant or aggressive and requires some tact to use humorously.
What does it mean?
This one takes some explaining. The word gueule means ‘muzzle’ or ‘maw’, and is a colloquial, often pejorative way of referring to either someone’s mouth, like ‘gob’ or ‘trap’, or their whole face, like ‘mug’ or ‘kisser’. The phrase ta gueule is a shortened form of ferme ta gueule, meaning ‘shut your gob’ or ‘shut your face’. Ta gueule, the most frequently used variation, is most often translated as ‘shut up!’, as in:
T’as vu ? Le PSG a perdu à nouveau hier soir ! – Ta gueule !
‘Did you see? PSG lost again last night!’ – ‘Shut up!’
Or, in the news recently a doctor was accused of screaming this at a woman giving birth in Toulouse:
Ferme ta gueule, et pousse !
‘Shut your mouth, and push!’
Obviously, people have often lost their tempers when this comes out of their mouths, as is the case with the jilted Romain Duris in the classic Erasmus film, L’Auberge espagnole…
There’s really no way to politely ask someone to shut their mouth and stop talking, but it can be done less aggressively. The reflexive verb se taire means to ‘keep quiet’, and the commands tais-toi or taisez-vous – ‘be quiet’ – could foreseeably be uttered by an irritated school teacher.
Replacing the word gueule with bouche, as in ferme ta bouche (‘shut your mouth’) makes the phrase slightly less combative, though still not exactly pleasant. This will sometimes be shortened to ta bouche, ferme-la or la ferme, translatable as ‘shut it’.
Finally, there’s ta gueule, la mouette or vos gueules, les mouettes ! Meaning, ‘shut it, seagull(s)’, this reproach is a little bit gentler and more comical, making it preferable if you don’t want to hurt anyone's feelings.