For members


French word the day: Casse-couille

This mildy NSFW phrase will come in very handy if you want to complain about a person or a task that's just a massive pain.

French word the day: Casse-couille
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know casse-couille?

You'll hear it a lot in France, and it'll come in handy when you want to have a moan about something…or someone.

What does it mean?  

Casse-couille means ball breaker, but it can be understood better as a pain in the ass or a ballache. Casser means 'to break' and couille means 'ball', strictly in the testicular sense.

It's exactly the phrase you need when drinking with friends after a long day spent listening to your nagging boss, or you've got some administrative nightmare on the horizon like filling in your French tax declaration.

Just like in English it's mildly rude, so perhaps not one to use when meeting your French mother-in-law for the first time. 

It's often deployed as a verb too, casser les couilles could be used as a more colourful alternative to embêter (to annoy).

Jean-Paul Sartre even used it in his 1949 novel Troubled Sleep (La mort dans l'âme):

'Ah!' dit-il exaspéré, 'tu me casses les couilles' – 'Ah!' he said, exasperated 'You're breaking my balls!'

Use it like this

Cette paperasse est vraiement casse-couille – this paperwork is a massive ballache 

Il est un vrai casse-couille, ce type – he's a real pain in the ass, that guy


If you want a more family-friendly alternative casse-tête (head breaker) means much the same thing and is often seen in headlines whenever the French government is facing a particular nightmare.



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For members


French Expression of the Day: Les grands esprits se rencontrent

Though this phrase has a close English equivalent, it's just so much more poetic in French

French Expression of the Day: Les grands esprits se rencontrent

Why do I need to know les grands esprits se rencontrent?

Because you might want to use this phrase the next time you and a friend have the same idea for how to spend vacation.

What does it mean?

Les grands esprits se rencontrent – usually pronounced lay grand eh-spreets suh rahn-cahn-truh – literally translates to “the great minds meet each other” or “the great spirits meet each other.” More appropriately, the very poetic phrase in French translates to the English expression “great minds think alike.” 

For the French phrase, it actually finds its origins with Voltaire. In 1760, he wrote a letter to another well-known French writer at the time and included the phrase: “Les beaux esprits se rencontrent” (the beautiful minds meet each other) to emphasise the fact that both expressed the same idea at the same time.

Over time, the phrase switched from ‘beautiful’ minds to ‘great’ minds, but the meaning remains the same. The phrase is usually said ironically in French, and can be used more or less interchangeably with the English version of this expression (which curiously has different origins altogether). However, sadly, the French version does not include the snarky reply: “and fools seldom differ” 

Use it like this

J’avais envie de pizza pour le dîner mais je lui ai demandé ce qu’il voulait quand même et il a dit pizza. Les grands esprits se rencontrent ! – I was wanting pizza for dinner, but I asked him what he wanted anyways, and he said pizza. Great minds think alike!

Nous pensons tous deux que la vue de Paris depuis le Belvédère de Belleville est la meilleure de la ville. Les grands esprits se rencontrent. – We both think that the view of Paris from Belvédère de Belleville is the best of the city. Great minds think alike.