French word of the day: Malin

Could this be the ultimate way of describing British PM Boris Johnson?

French word of the day: Malin
Why do I need to know malin?

So that you're not insulted in case someone says you are malin comme un singe – malin like a monkey.

What does it mean?

In fact, malin can be a huge compliment. The expression malin comme un singe means being very cunning or crafty. 

For example:

Sa réponse était très maligne – he/she answered very intelligently

Je vois que tu as ramené un parapluie si jamais il pleut, c'est très malin ! – I see you brought an umbrella in case it rains, that's really clever!

However malin can also refer to being sly or mischievous, depending on the context. Someone often referred to as malin by French media, is  Boris Johnson.

In fact, the multiple meanings of malin can be found through a brief Google search how the term is used to describe the British PM. First here in Les Echos:

Contrairement à [Theresa May], Boris Johnson est un vrai politique, charmeur, plein d'empathie, malin, certains diraient roué, sinon menteur. – Contrary to Theresa May, Boris Johnson is a really charming politician, full of empathy, cunning, some would even call him sly or a liar.

This Figaro piece opens with a praise of Johnson's abandoned strategy of forcing through a “no deal” Brexit October 31st, stating simply: C'est malin. – It's slick/Machiavellian.

In this piece published by Le Parisien today, the term has a more negative meaning:

Boris Johnson, pur produit du système britannique, « n'a pas la biographie d'un populiste », souligne François Rastier. « Mais il en utilise les méthodes afin de créer de la confusion. C'est surtout un gros malin, un opportuniste. » – Boris Johnson, a product of the British political system, “doesn't have a populist background,” said François Rastier. “But he uses populist methods to create confusion. He's very sly, an opportunist.”

Finally, also by Le Parisien, a (less flattering) description of the young Johnson's time as a journalist in Brussels:

Plume acérée et ton corrosif, celui que l'on surnomme alors « le bouffon » prend un malin plaisir à tourner en dérision la bureaucratie européenne. – With a sharp pen and a venomous tone, the man nicknamed “the fool” takes malicious pleasure in making fun of the European bureaucracy.


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




Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Word of the Day: Bordéliser

This French expression is not the kindest, but it will certainly get your point across.

French Word of the Day: Bordéliser

Why do I need to know bordéliser?

Because when things feel chaotic, you might want to use this word.

What does it mean?

Bordéliser roughly pronounced bore-del-ee-zay – comes from the swear word “bordel” which means brothel.

In popular usage, bordel is used to describe a mess or a chaotic environment, and bordéliser turns the bordel into a verb – meaning to make or create disorder, disaster or chaos. 

During periods of unrest in France, you may hear people blame one group for causing the problem by using this expression. Keep in mind that bordéliser is not polite language – the English equivalent might be to “fuck (or screw) something up”.

One popular theory says that the root word bordel comes from medieval French – at the time, sex workers were explicitly not allowed to work near the ports, so they were relegated to wooden huts or small houses – or bordes, in French –  away from the city.

You may also hear another French expression that uses the same root word: “c’est le bordel”. 

This literally translates to “it’s a brothel” but it is used to describe a situation that’s untidy, messy or chaotic, both literally and figuratively as in  ‘what a bloody mess!’ or ‘it’s mayhem!’ or ‘what a disaster!’

Use it like this

Le militant accuse le gouvernement de bordéliser le pays avec sa réforme impopulaire. – The activist accuses the government of “fucking up” the country with its unpopular reform.

Tu as bordélisé l’appartement et notre dynamique de colocation en achetant le singe comme animal de compagnie. Qu’est-ce qui t’a pris ? – You have screwed up the apartment and our roommate dynamic by buying the monkey as a pet. What were you thinking?