Dégun is local slang for personne – no one. This is a commonly used word, especially associated with football supporters of Olympique de Marseille. One of the club's unofficial mottos is On craint dégun! – We fear no one!
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Marseille fans fear no-one, you know. Photo: AFP
In your day-to-day life, you also may say Je suis allé à la plage cet après-midi, il y avait vraiment dégun. – I went to the beach this afternoon, there really was no one there.
Overemphasising is a regional hobby, so you can still use dégun if a normally crowded place is surprisingly calm, for example.
The word peuchère actually comes from the provencal language and means le pauvre – 'what a shame' or 'poor guy', which is used to express compassion or pity. Peuchère, sa femme l'a quitté pour un autre. – Poor guy, his wife left him for another man.
You may also hear people from Marseille saying Arrête de faire le peuchère! to someone who complains a lot, which means 'Quit playing the victim!'
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If you hear someone saying Cette voiture date de l'an pèbre!, this means their car is really old. The expression is used to talk about something dating back to a really distant past. This is pretty much the provencal for 'old as Methuselah'.
'Tu tires ou tu pointes?'
If you ever tried playing pétanque in France, there is a high chance you have already heard someone shout Tu tires ou tu pointes? – 'So are you shooting or pointing?' This is a typical phrase pronounced by other players or bystanders watching the game when you are taking too long to play.
Pointing means trying to throw your boule as close to the cochonnet – jack – as possible. Shooting is throwing your boule at an opponent's to knock it out of play.
If someone ever asks you 'Bon alors, tu tires ou tu pointes?', you better hurry up!
Petanque has its own special vocab. Photo: AFP
Tu me sers un jaune, s'il te plaît? must be one of the most heard sentences on terraces in Provence. This phrase actually refers to the yellow color of Ricard, this aniseed-flavoured alcool which is extremely popular in the South.
To sound like a local, order un jaune instead of a verre de Ricard – glass of Ricard.
The Occitan-derived word cagnard is used on particularly hot days and means 'in full sunlight' or 'heat'. It is not to be confused with the French word canard.
Quel cagnard! – It's so hot!
Ne laisse pas les enfants jouer en plein cagnard. – Don't let children play in full sunlight.
Péguer is a specific word to describe a sensation of stickiness. People living in the Southwest and more generally the South will use Ça pègue! – 'It's sticky!' everytime something feels a bit too gluey.
J'ai les mains qui pèguent! – My hands are sticky!
Il a renversé du sirop par terre, ça pègue de partout maintenant. – He spilled syrup on the floor, it is all sticky now!
C'est le pompon sur la Garonne!
This is the kind of exclamation you'll hear if someone in the region of Toulouse has a very bad day. J'ai perdu mon téléphone ce matin et maintenant mes clés. C'est le pompon sur la Garonne! – I lost my phone this morning and now my keys. This is the final straw!
According to some legends, the expression originates from Napoléon III. He once was in Toulouse to open a bridge crossing the Garonne river on a windy day. So windy the pompom on his hat was carried away and landed on the river. One of the bystanders supposedly said: 'C'est le pompon sur la Garonne.'
While you may think 'Oh, I know this one!', you actually may not. If poche only means 'pocket' everywhere else in France, in the South West une poche is also a paper or a plastic bag used when grocery shopping.
Vous avez une poche pour ranger les courses, s'il vous plaît? – Do you have a bag I can put my groceries in, please?
This is not a pocket. Photo: AFP
While the French have endless ways to describe crazy people and situations, Southwest France trademark alternative to fou is jobard – and its feminine version jobarde as well, of course. The idea is always to express some kind of madness, though the degree of insanity may vary.
For example, if someone passes you on a really narrow road you could say: Il conduit comme un jobard. – He is driving like a madman.
Or if you cannot seen to be thinking clearly: Je deviens jobard avec cette histoire. – I'm going nuts with all this stuff going on.
North and Northwest France
If someone offers you un jus in Brittany, it may or may not be an actual orange juice. Un jus is a coffee, so make sure you know what you are saying yes to.
Je peux t'offrir un jus? – Can I offer you a 'juice'?
As if the jus was not tricky enough, they might ask you if you'd like a canard – a duck – in it. But no need to freak out, because guess what? A canard is a sugar cube.
Literally translating to 'to be given back', this expression actually means 'getting somewhere'. Je suis pas rendu avec tout ces bouchons! – I'm not getting there anytime soon with this traffic!
Though mainly used in the negative form, you may be asked Où est-ce que tu es rendu? – Where are you?' if someone is waiting for you.
Dracher means pleuvoir – to rain. Il drache trop pour aller courir. – It's raining too much to go for a run. The word drache – rain – describes a driving rain or pouring rain.
J'espère que tu as pris ton paletot! – I hope you brought your coat! Not to perpetuate any cliches about Brittany and Northern France in general, but you may indeed need a paletot in these French regions more than in others, you know, just in case it drache too much.
Last but not least for our northern category: biloute. This word has two meanings: one of them is penis, a small one on top of that. Funnily enough, the word is also used as a friendly nickname, so do not be offended if someone calls you biloute, they are actually being nice!
Over the last decade, this has become a go-to expression for French trying to impersonate people from the North: Salut biloute! – Hey buddy! This word is now known all over France because of the 2008 cult movie Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.
Vinte instead vingt
Pronunciation-wise, this one may come in handy if you are trying to pose as a local. Because as hard as you have been told not to pronounce the t at the end of the number vingt – twenty, French easterners will reduce to nothing all the efforts you have made so far. Unlike all other regions, they tend to say vinte instead of vingt.
Ça fait vinte fois que je le répète! – I have been saying this over and over again!
As if gendered common names and adjectives were not enough, here is an other disconcerting habit from the East. In the Lorraine region especially, locals tend to add determiners in front of first names. You did not run into Marie, you ran into la Marie. Now you know!
C'est la première fois que je vais voir le Jean-Claude depuis son accident. – This is the first time I'll be seeing the Jean-Claude since his accident.
Unlike what you may be thinking, this expression has no link whatsoever to someone spreading delicious butter or jam on a crispy toast. Literally translating to 'spread', tartiner actually means driving (too) fast.
Elle tartine celle-là! – Look how fast she is driving!
As surprising as it may seem, you can order escargots in bakeries in Northeast France. If you did so, you would not be served slimy cooked snails for all that: un escargot is actually an other word for pain aux raisins – a spiral pastry sprinkled with raisins. Why is it called like this, you would ask? Well, simply because its shape resembles a snail shell.
Deux croissants et un escargot, s'il vous plaît. – Two croissants and a snail, please.
Fermer la lumière instead of éteindre la lumière
Ferme la lumière, je veux dormir. – Close the light, I want to sleep.
This regional exception is often a subject to teasing from French living in other regions.
When Lorraine's people ask to fermer la lumière, they can always hear someone jokingly saying: Fermer la lumière? Et tu veux que j'éteigne la porte aussi? – Close the light? Do you want me to turn off the door as well?'