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Word of the day: Margoulette

This expression dates back to the 17th century, and even some French people are unsure of its meaning. We explain.

Word of the day: Margoulette

Why do I need to know margoulette?

Not even all French people know what margoulette means, so this is a way to really advance your language skills. 

What does it mean?

Margoulette dates back to the 17th century. It can be traced back to the verb margouiller, which can be roughly translated into “eating dirtily” and goulette, an old-fashioned way of saying gueule (the vulgar French term for “mouth”).

At it's origin, margoulette refers to the mouth, or sometimes the whole face. Later, margoulette has come to mean the whole body, especially when used in the expression se casser la margoulette.

If you have stayed in France for a longer period of time, you might already know the expression se casser la figure, which means “falling over.”  (There is also se casser la gueule, which is a (very) informal way of saying the same thing.)

Margoulette is used in a similar manner:

Je me suis cassée la margoulette en faisant du vélo ce week-end – I fell over while biking this weekend.

Elle voulait grimper le mur, mais elle s'est cassée la margoulette – she wanted to climb the wall, but she fell down.

Any other options?

It is a very old-fashioned expression, and few actually use it. However sometimes margoulette can be used as an informal way of saying visage (face), yet nicer way of saying gueule. If your kid needs to wash up before dinner, you could say:

Lave ta margoulette avant le repas! Wash your face before you eat!

You might also have heard the slightly different version marboulette, which means the same but is more widely used in Canada.

For more French words and expressions, head to our French word of the Day section.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.