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French word of the day: Punaise

If you've ever shared a bed with one of these you will know why its very name is a curse.

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

Why do I need to know punaise?

It's one of those family-friendly swearwords that come in handy when you're making an effort not to be vulgar or offensive.

What does it mean?

Punaise is the French word for 'bug' – as in punaise de lit or bed bug – but it is more popularly used as a highly versatile swearword.

Punaise is like putain, just nicer. Putain (fuck) is perhaps the most popular gros mot (swearword) in French. If you have stayed in France for more than a few hours you are bound to have hear someone exclaim putain.

Punaise is a more harmless version.

Just as English speakers sometimes say 'shoot', 'sugar' or 'darn' instead of swearing, you can say punaise to take the edge out of your curse.

Punaise is also French for thumbtack, the thing you can use to fasten things to your wall.

Use it like this
Punaise, il pleut.. – Shoot, it's raining..
Punaise, j'ai encore brulé le diner ! – Darn, I burned the dinner again!
Ah, punaise, on a complètement oublié de lui souhaiter son anniversaire: – Oh gosh, we completely forgot to wish him/her happy birtdhay.


France has a long list of swearword alternatives, most of which have interesting translations.

Purée ! – Mashed potato!
Mince ! – Slim!
La vache ! – The cow!

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

This is definitely not lip synching.

French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

Why do I need to know Chanter faux ?

Because if you were not blessed with a beautiful singing voice, then this might be a good phrase to know. 

What does it mean?

Chanter faux – pronounced shahn-tay foe – literally means to ‘fake sing.’ You might assume this expression would mean ‘lip sync’ in French, but its true meaning is to sing out of tune. (Lip synching is chanter en playback).

It joins a chorus of other French expressions about bad singing, like chanter comme une casserole (to sing like a saucepan) or chanter comme une seringue (to sing like a siren).  

Chanter faux is actually the most correct way to describe someone being off key, so it might be a better option than comparing another’s voice to a cooking utensil. 

You might have seen this expression pop up recently amid the drought, as people call for rain dances and rain singing (where there is no shame in singing badly).

Use it like this

Pendant l’audition pour la pièce, Sarah a chanté faux. Malheureusement, elle n’a pas obtenu le rôle. – During her audition for the play, Sarah sang out of tune. Sadly, she did not get a role.

Si on fait un karaoké, tu verras comme je chante mal. Je chante vraiment faux, mais je m’en fiche. Il s’agit de s’amuser. – If we do karaoke you will see how badly I sing. I am really out of tune, but I don’t care. It’s all about having fun.