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French expression of the day: Rire jaune

Why is 'laughing yellow' a handy skill for politicians?

French expression of the day: Rire jaune
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know rire jaune?

Because sometimes we laugh, even though we are not at all amused.

What does it mean?

Rire jaune literally means “laughing yellow”.  Rire – to laugh, Jaune – yellow

But it really means laughing in a forced way or to hide unease, irritation.

The colour yellow has been associated with different meanings over the years, symbolising both life and death.

Vivid yellow was associated with gold and the sun while matte yellow represented the colour of Sulphur, of hell and symbolised treason.

In the Middle Ages, yellow became the colour of Judas, the biblical character who betrayed Christ.

“From this ill-famed apostle, the symbol went to the Jews in general, who were obliged by the law in certain countries to dress in yellow –  a tradition that surfaced under Nazism with the sinister memory of the yellow star”, according to Claude Duneton in the book La Puce à l’oreille – Anthologie des expressions populaires avec leur origine. 

According to Duneton, this expression first appeared in 1640 with the linguist Antoine Oudin who wrote Il rit jaune comme farine – He laughs yellow like flour.

So the expression Rire jaune and the hypocrisy it evokes comes to mean someone who is fake laughing.  

Use it like this

Pauline riait jaune quand tu lui as dit qu’elle avait vieilli ! – Pauline forced herself to laugh when you told her she had aged!

Les politiciens ont ris jaune quand les écologistes ont gagnés les élections –  Politicians fake laughed when the environmentalists won the elections.

Tu riras jaune quand j'aurais gagné! – You'll be laughing on the other side of your face when I win. 


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For members


French Phrase of the Day: Syndrome de la bonne élève

Why being a good pupil can sometimes be … bad.

French Phrase of the Day: Syndrome de la bonne élève

Why do I need to know Syndrome de la bonne élève?

Feeling under-valued at work despite doing everything – and more – asked of you? You may have ‘good student syndrome’.

What does it mean?

Syndrome de la bonne élève – pronounced sin-dromm de la bon ell-evv – translates, as we’ve already hinted, as good student syndrome. 

You may well also see it written as syndrome du bon élève (pronounced sin-dromm doo bon ell-evv) – but this is predominantly a female issue.

It refers to someone in the workplace who tries their hardest to work to the rules, do all the jobs asked of them – and more – and yet is overlooked in favour of co-workers who don’t necessarily put in the same hard graft.

It’s not an official ‘syndrome’, but mental health experts do recognise it in many people – particularly women.

It is a hangover, according to features in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, from school days when girls are considered to be harder workers and less trouble than their boy counterparts.

Marie Claire labelled it a “destructive perfectionism … which affects the mental health of the women they become, while preventing them from embracing positions of responsibility’.’

Use it like this

Le syndrome de la bonne élève touche essentiellement les femmes dans le monde occidental. – Good student syndrome mainly affects women in the Western world.

Cette question d’éducation est d’autant plus marquante que le syndrome du « bon élève » affecte généralement les femmes – This question of education is all the more striking because “good student” syndrome generally affects women