French word of the day: Punaise

French word of the day: Punaise
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
If you've ever shared a bed with one of these you will know why its very name is a curse.

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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