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French expression of the day: Avoir les boules

Having the balls in French is not like having a ball in English.

French expression of the day: Avoir les boules
Photo: 1Tomm/Depositphotos

Why do I need to know les boules?

It’s a slang expression to use on a rainy day.

What does it mean?

Directly translated, avoir les boules means 'having the balls' – and not the ball you use to play football (ballon in French). 

Boules is the French world for the other type of balls, although it is “difficult to say whether the ‘boules’ in question represent testicles or tonsils,” according to the French online dictionary l’Internaute.

But in any case the meaning of the expression remains the same. If you’re having the balls it means that you’re really annoyed, angry or upset.

J’ai les boules, on a perdu le match hier soir – I’m so bummed that we lost the game last night.

Tu me fous les boules!

Avoir les boules is colloquial on its own, but foutre les boules is even more informal (and l’Internaute here concluded that the balls in question do refer the male genitalia).

While avoir les boules refers to the person having the balls, foutre les boules points outward, in the sense that something makes someone having the balls (thus making them angry, annoyed, upset or scared).

Il essaye juste de te foutre les boules – He's just busting your chops.

Voilà de quoi foutre les boules à la patriarchie – That's how you mess with the patriarchy. 

You can use the expression about yourself if you turn it like this

Ca me fout les boules – It makes me really angry/upset.


There are many ways of saying that something makes you upset without risking being stamped as vulgar.

Ca me gonfle is a good one (‘it makes me swell [up with anger]’) or even ca me met en colère (which simply means ‘it makes me angry’).


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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.