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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The nine very best French insults (for use when you’re very, very cross)

If you've finally lost your rag with your noisy neighbour, if you wish to express your displeasure at the idiot who has just backed into your car or you want a short sharp exchange of views with the teenager on the scooter - these are the phrases you will need.

The nine very best French insults (for use when you're very, very cross)
Feeling angry? Stop, take a deep breath and learn to insult people properly in French. Photo TarasMalyevitch/Deposit

So here are The Local we have previously explored how the French are, in general, a polite nation.

Observing the courtesies such as Bonjour is extremely important in France, and Anglophones who are too sloppy or casual in their address have been known to earn themselves a sharp rebuke.

We've exploded the myth that the French are rude, that what can be taken for rudeness is often simply a more formal or structured way of doing things that can clash with a more casual British or American style.

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And of course France itself has so many things to love – from the amazing food to the beautiful countryside and rich cultural offerings – that living here is a great joy.

All that said, however, there are times when everyone will need to blow their top. And if you've truly decided that is enough is enough and someone needs to be given a piece of your mind, there is nothing worse than not having the correct vocabulary to express your fury.

So we've helpfully gathered together some of the best phrases for expressing everything from mild disappointment to utter, incandescent, eye-popping rage.

1. Chiant/e

So let's start gently with a relatively mild insult.

Chiant/e is the adjective derived from the verb chier which is a vulgar way to say 'to crap' or 'to shit'. 

But despite this chiant/e isn't quite as offensive or distasteful as you might think. 

It is frequently used in conversation to describe something as 'really irritating', 'really annoying', 'really boring' or in more extreme slang 'a pain in the ass'. 

For example you could say, Ce film est super chiant, ne va pas le voir. – 'This film is super annoying, don't go and see it.'

Or in its feminine form: J'en ai marre de ma petite sœur : elle est chiante! – 'I'm sick of my little sister: she's really irritating!'

2. Relou

This a verlan word, meaning that it is formed by inverting another word's syllables (for more on verlan, click here).
 
In this case, that word is lourd – not in its literal sense, ‘heavy', but rather the figurative one, used to describe a presence or situation that is ‘oppressive', ‘irritating', or ‘unbearable'.
 
Relou is used to talk about someone or something that is irritating or oppressive, but the verlan version, probably because it is less formal and more slangy, carries a little bit of extra oomph.
 
Relou is probably most frequently used when talking about a person whose presence or behaviour is or has become oppressive:
 
Au début, Pierre semblait cool, mais il est devenu trop relou. – At first, Pierre seemed cool, but he got really annoying.
 
Especially when applied to a man, relou usually refers to the sort of guy who makes bad jokes, lacks tact, and doesn't know when their presence is unwanted… think Michael Scott from the Office (or David Brent in the UK version), seen without any sympathy.
 
Arrête de la draguer tout le temps, t'es relou! – Stop hitting on her all the time, you're a pain in the ass!
 
It can also be used to describe a disagreeable situation, much like ‘that sucks' in English.
 
Comment ça se passe, le travail à Paris ? – Je ne fais que métro, boulot, dodo, c'est relou. – How's the job in Paris going? – I do nothing but commute, work, and sleep, it sucks.
 
And finally, relou can be used as a generally disparaging adjective to talk about most things or concepts:
 
Ta gueule! On en a marre de tes blagues reloues! – Shut it! We've had it up to here with your lame jokes!

3. Ta guele!

This brings us neatly to number three on the list, which is used more directly to a person, rather than about them. If you're using this, you've passed the point of trying to reason politely with someone.

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'. 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!'
 
 

4. Vénère

Not exactly an insult as such, but if you want to tell people that you're really, really angry this is the way to do it.

Vénère is another verlan one and it's one that you will frequently see in street demos and protests as people describe themselves as well and truly pissed off.

It's verlan for énervé, meaning ‘irritated', ‘angry', or even ‘pissed off' – the first and last ‘é' are combined (énervé -> vé-éner -> vénère). As in, Je suis trop vénère, ta soeur m'a piqué mon mec! – I'm really angry, your sister stole my man!
 
Or, Son père était hyper vénère quand il a appris sa note au bac. – His dad was super pissed when he found out about his grade on the bac (end of high school exam).
 
Often used by protesters, like the students at the University of Paris Nanterre protesting against the Macron government's 2018 higher education reform, who called themselves Nanterre Vénère. 
 

5. Tu m'emmerdes

If your neighbour has kept you awake for the third night in a row partying or arguing with his significant other, that would probably be an appropriate time for this phrase.

The literal translation of tu m'emmerdes is 'you're shitting on me'. 
 
But it really means 'you're pissing me off!', 'you're bugging me!' or 'you're getting on my nerves!'
 
Tu m'emmerdes avec ton bruit – You're pissing me off with your noise.
 
 
6. Faux cul
 
Quite a specific insult this – it basically means hypocrite, so you will need to get the context right, although it can probably be safely shouted at all politicians.
 
The words faux cul, sometimes written faux-cul, actually mean “false bottom”, or maybe “false ass”, given that cul is the vulgar French word for one's backside. Originally, faux cul described an apparatus worn under the dress by 19th century women (sometimes called a “bustle” in English), often along with a corset, in an attempt to emphasise their curves.
 
Because of the use of the faux cul to misrepresent one's appearance, it soon became a synonym for “hypocrite”, “phony” or “two-faced”. As in, Ce faux cul, il nous dit qu'il faut beaucoup travailler, mail il ne fait jamais rien. – “That hypocrite, he tells us that you have to work hard, but he never does anything.”
 
Or – Elle m'avait dit précisément le contraire. Quel faux cul! “She told me exactly the opposite. What a phony!”
 
 
7. Raclure de bidet
 
Very much the nuclear option of insults, since you're describing someone as bidet scum, so probably best to keep this one for someone you are quite definite that you will never be friends with.
 
But if you'd like an inventive way to put someone in their place then you might want to crack out: T'es une raclure de bidet. – 'You bidet scum.'
 
8. Merde/connard/salope and . . . putain!
 
If you slightly balk at describing someone as the scrapings left at the bottom of a bidet, you could try some common or garden French swearing – merde (shit), salope (bitch) con or conard/conasse (asshole or dickhead – conasse is used for a woman) but the daddy of all French swearing is putain.
 
So fabulously versatile is this word that we've devoted an entire article to its many uses.
 
Interestingly, although it's usually translated into English as 'fuck' it's not always a particularly strong word (although you still wouldn't say it to your granny).
 
It all depends on how it's used. But if you're screaming Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d'enculer ta mère (we blush to translate, let's just say it's very rude) at someone, then they'll probably get the idea that you are mildly perturbed.
 
 
But of course, it's highly likely that when you do finally blow your stack you'll forget all of these and only remember what you should have said much later.
 
And helpfully, French has a phrase for that too. Esprit d'escalier (literally translated as staircase wit) describes the moment when you think of a perfect retort for an argument – but only much later when the argument has finished. It's said that 18th century French philosopher Diderot coined the phrase because he found that it was only by walking away from the argument, literally down the stairs, that he could he think of a suitable riposte.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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