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French expression of the Day: Pas de bol

Want to commiserate with a pal who seems to be having nothing but misfortune? This is the perfect phrase for it.

French expression of the Day: Pas de bol

Why do I need to know pas de bol?

You will hear this in more casual conversations as it's a fairly slangy phrase, but it's not offensive and it can be useful when describing a bad situation or offering sympathy.

What does it mean?

It literally translates as 'no bowl' but it means bad luck, tough luck or to have no luck. 

You can use it to describe somebody – Barry n'as pas de bol aves les filles – Barry has no luck with girls.

On n'a pas de bol avec nos invités – We've had bad luck with our guests. 

Or you can use it directly to someone to commiserate with them.

Tu as encore raté ta promotion?  C'est quand même pas de bol – You missed out on promotion again? I mean, of all the bad luck.

Conversely if you want to describe someone who has good luck, you would say they avoir du bol, for example Un piano lui est tombé dessus, il a du bol d'être vivant – A piano fell on him, he's lucky to be alive.

You can also use avoir du pot or pas de pot in the same way to man good luck/bad luck.

Where does it come from?

You would think this expression has a fairly simple origin to do with people being fortunate enough to have full bowls of food, but it's actually a bit more bizarre than that.

Pot and bol are historic slang terms for both the anus and more generally the bottom, and in fact avoir de cul (to have an ass) is also used to mean good luck, although it's not heard so much any more. Quite how it came into being as a popular slang term is really anyone's guess, although not having an anus would be pretty bad luck, we suppose.

On a similar note, a popular way to wish someone good luck in France is to simply say merde (shit). It's often used before a performance or a match and is roughly equivalent of the English thespian phrase 'break a leg'.

For more French words and phrases, see our French word of the Day section.





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For members


French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

This is definitely not lip synching.

French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

Why do I need to know Chanter faux ?

Because if you were not blessed with a beautiful singing voice, then this might be a good phrase to know. 

What does it mean?

Chanter faux – pronounced shahn-tay foe – literally means to ‘fake sing.’ You might assume this expression would mean ‘lip sync’ in French, but its true meaning is to sing out of tune. (Lip synching is chanter en playback).

It joins a chorus of other French expressions about bad singing, like chanter comme une casserole (to sing like a saucepan) or chanter comme une seringue (to sing like a siren).  

Chanter faux is actually the most correct way to describe someone being off key, so it might be a better option than comparing another’s voice to a cooking utensil. 

You might have seen this expression pop up recently amid the drought, as people call for rain dances and rain singing (where there is no shame in singing badly).

Use it like this

Pendant l’audition pour la pièce, Sarah a chanté faux. Malheureusement, elle n’a pas obtenu le rôle. – During her audition for the play, Sarah sang out of tune. Sadly, she did not get a role.

Si on fait un karaoké, tu verras comme je chante mal. Je chante vraiment faux, mais je m’en fiche. Il s’agit de s’amuser. – If we do karaoke you will see how badly I sing. I am really out of tune, but I don’t care. It’s all about having fun.