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French word of the day: Taquiner

If you find your sense of humour lost in translation, this expression could be a life-saver.

French word of the day: Taquiner
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know taquiner?

If you're a foreigner in France who enjoy telling jokes, you might have noticed that French people react slightly differently to what the Brits call 'banter'.

Here's the correct French way to casually disarm after being funny on someone's expense.

What does it mean?

Taquiner is French for ‘playing with’ someone, but in a harmless way.

Directly translated to ‘tease', it might be the nicest way of pulling someone's leg in French. 

Taquiner is light, playful and should never ruin anyone's day.

Il n'a pas dit ca méchamment, cétait pour te taquiner! – He didn't mean to be mean, he was just messing with you!

Arrête de taquiner ta soeur, Paul – ‘Stop teasing your sister, Paul’ 

T'inquietè, on taquinait. – Don't worry, we were just kidding.


Je te taquine – ‘I am teasing you’ – is similar to saying je rigole – ‘I’m joking’.
You can also say say je t'embête – I am messing with you.
Agacer, anrager, tourmenter or piquer are other options, but these all have a slightly darker undertone.
Other options

Similarly to the English expression ‘playing with’ (someone), taquiner can also literally mean ‘play an instrument’.

Il taquine le piano means ‘he plays the piano (a little)’. 

Taquine can also be used as an adjective. If you say that something or someone is taquine, it means that they have a playful or teasing nature.
It's been used by Le Figaro to describe the French language itself: la langue française est souvent aussi subtile que taquine – 'the French language is often as subtle as it is teasing'.
As anyone brave enough to embark the journey through the jungle of grammar rules and exceptions that is the French language, they will know that it is a fitting description. 

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For members


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.