The French ‘insults’ that are actually compliments

The French 'insults' that are actually compliments
Check that you are definitely being insulted before you lose your temper. Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash
Being called old, fat or a bloodsucker might normally be fighting talk, but lower your fists - in France these are actually terms of affection.

While the French language has of course come up with many and varied options to insult someone, there are some phrases that only sound offensive.

READ ALSO The 9 best French insults for use when you're very, very cross

Who are you calling old? Photo: AFP

In fact some of France's most common terms of endearment sound distinctly offensive to Anglophone ears.

Here are some of our favourites

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See also on The Local:

Ma grande (my big girl)

Being called tall or big isn't necessarily an insult of course, but it's not something that English speakers would regularly wheel out. In France, however, ma grande is a very common term of affection for women or girls. It's most commonly used by older people and is perhaps best translated as 'my dear'.

It's best used among friends so if you are tempted to call a colleague or someone you don't know well ma grande then don't, like 'my dear' it can come across as patronising. There is a male equivalent (mon grand) but it's less common.

READ ALSO 12 French insults we'd love to have in English

Grosse (fatty)

This has got to be an insult, right? No, but it is very colloquial and usually used by young people.

It is usually translated as 'babe' or 'hun' – ça va, grosse ? Ben oui, merci, grosse – You OK hun? Yeah, thanks babe.

This too exists for men, ça va gros ? – You alright mate?

Mon vieux/ ma vieille – old man/old woman

Mentioning the age of a lady, in particular, is generally seen as something of a no-no, but in France cheerfully referring to someone as old as quite common.

This does have its English equivalent of course, but while 'old man' or 'old boy' are now rarely heard outside World War II movies, in France it is still frequently heard to refer to mon vieux or (for a woman) ma vieille if you mean mate or pal.

As a side note, in French-speaking Cameroon calling someone vieille marmite – an old cooking pot – is also a nice thing since it's calling them a good cook. 

Who's my chicken then? You are. Photo: AFP

Poule/poulette (chicken)

Calling someone a chicken in English is to invite confrontation since you're doubting their courage, but in France ma poule or poulette is a cosy term of affection for women, used by lovers and family members alike.

It's only when the chicken gets wet that you need to worry.

While calling someone poule means that you love them, calling them poule mouillée (a wet hen) means that they are a coward. So you can (if you're English) legitimately take offence if someone tells you les anglais sont tous des poules mouillées – the English are all cowards. 

Puce (flea)

Probably at the bottom of most people's list of favourite animals, it's nonetheless good to be a flea in France. It's a very common term of affection, usually used between lovers.

Tu me manques, ma puce – I miss you, baby.

Check out that sexy cannon. Photo: AFP

Canon (cannon)

You're a large, heavy weapon that can seriously maim or kill? That's a good thing, though. While the primary meaning of canon in French is the same as in English – a cannon – it has a secondary meaning, that you're steaming hot, gorgeous and stunning.

So you can strut a bit in the street if you overhear someone describing you as un mec canon (a gorgeous guy) or une nana canon (a smokin' hot girl).

Biche (deer)

Sounding dangerously like 'bitch' to anglophone ears, ma biche is in fact a nice little term of endearment for women. Calling someone ma biche (my doe) is like calling them honey. For a cuter version you can also use ma bichette or ma bibiche

Loulou (wolfy)

Deriving from loup – the French word for wolf – mon loulou is a common term of endearment for men and – especially – young boys.

Wolves are far from universally popular in France, especially with farmers in the areas in south west and eastern France where they roam, but there's no conflict with calling your favourite nephew 'my little wolfy'.

 

 


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