SHARE
COPY LINK

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Are these the most annoying words in the whole French language?

French - la langue de Molière - is of course a beautiful language that lends elegance to any situation. That said, there are some words that are just really annoying to foreigners - here are my least favourites.

Are these the most annoying words in the whole French language?
Don't even get me started on how to say Reims. Photo: AFP

Whether they're just too hard to pronounce, make no sense or herald impending doom, there are some French words that I don't think I will ever grow to love.

1. Coup 

There seem to be approximately a million phrases in the French language which involve the word coup and they all mean completely different things. When we recently ran a list of the 11 most popular coup phrases and asked for suggestions on some others, we received almost 100 responses with different phrases.

So if the person you are talking to is mumbling or gabbling and you miss the crucial word after coup de you have no idea if they are talking about a helping hand, a punch in the face, true love or one of the many other options.

And it might mean nothing at all, as French people frequently pepper their sentences with du coup in the same way that some English speakers add the word like at a random point in their, like, sentence.

2. En raison de

This is actually a perfectly innocuous phrase telling you why something is happening, but it's used a lot in official contexts and by companies and generally signals that some very bad news is coming your way.

Any public transport user's heart sinks when hearing this as you're generally about to be informed that all trains are cancelled and you had better get your walking shoes on. 

Likewise if someone uses the phrase en raison de la situation sanitaire (because of the health situation) they're almost certainly not going to tell you that you're due a pay rise or that there's no need to fill in any extra forms.

 

3. Serrurerie

I'm always careful with my keys, but especially so in France, as I know that if I accidentally lock myself out then there's no way I would be able to summon a locksmith, since I find it impossible to wrap my tongue around all the rolling rs in this word.

At least I'm not alone here, the word features on most lists of French words that anglophones find very tricky – maybe we can introduce homme aux cléfs as an alternative?

READ ALSO The nine French words that foreigners never quite pronounce right

The key shop poses a particular challenge for non-native speakers. Photo: AFP

4. Quatre-vingt-quinze

This is not exactly an original observation, but France's numbers really are crazy and for those among us who are slightly mathematically challenged having to multiply 20 by 4 then add 15 every time we fill up the car with petrol or talk about Paris suburbs really does not make life easy.

Controversially for a France-lover, I'm on the side of Belgium and Switzerland here, both of whom have introduced a simplified numbering system with new words for seventy, eighty and ninety.

READ ALSO How did France end up with its crazy numbers 

5. Vingt-et-une heures

Likewise the widespread use of the 24-hour clock in everyday language is a counting challenge for someone who grew up within the am/pm system.

It makes total sense to use it for trains and planes, but when someone starts talking to me about meeting at vingt-heure trente I'm frantically trying to remember if 20 o'clock is 8pm or 9pm. We're not in the military, what's wrong with just saying à huit heures ce soir?

6. Communautarisme

This is a French word that seems to have been a little hijacked, since its dictionary definition is “any conception that gives precedence to the organisation of society into communities over the requirement of assimilation of individuals according to equivalent rules and models for all”.

While that sounds fair enough, and it is still used with its original meaning in plenty of serious discussions around the French tradition of laîcité, the word itself seems to be most often used by people to object to movements like Black Lives Matter – slightly ignoring the fact that all these movements are asking for is 'equivalent rules and models for all'.

It has become the French equivalent of sneering 'identity politics' at anyone who dares to point out discrimination against a certain group and is frequently found in the mouths and the tweets of some fairly loathesome individuals.

 

7. Reims

Wikipedia informs me that this is a charming town in north east France with a cathedral so good that it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Sadly that is as near as I will get to it for the moment since I'm not going until I can figure out how to say it, and the various French people that I've asked don't seem to be totally sure either. 

I can definitely say it's not pronounced 'reems'.

READ ALSO Ten French towns you will most likely pronounce wrong

 

8. Brewdog Punk

You would think that English words would pose no problem – but do you pronounce them as you would say it and risk people not understanding you or do you go for a French pronunciation and end up sounding like a character from 'Allo 'Allo?

This is very common among tech items and if you're drinking in one of the increasing numbers of craft ale bars in French cities you will likely encounter this problem, which gets worse as you try to order your third pint of 'le Surfing Walrus IPA, s'il vous plaît'

There's also the issue of whether it is exactly the same word or not – so LED as in 'light emitting diodes' is the same word in France but said 'led' rather than L-E-D but Apple products are pronounced 'eye-phone' not 'ee-phone' as you would expect in French.

9. Fuck

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of this word in English but there is definitely a time and a place for it. However French people frequently drop it randomly into conversation without having any idea how strong it is. I once saw a French boy who was probably about 13 walking down the street in a T-shirt saying' Wanna f*ck?'. Inappropriate.

I find it particularly baffling since French has the absolutely majestic word putain, which can be used in virtually any situation (OK maybe not job interviews or confession) and is even better than fuck. Go figure.

But I should stress that I love 99.9 percent of French words, greatly enjoy the sheer poetry of the language and always like to learn new phrases (especially rude ones).

And at least I'm not the kind of unreasonable weirdo who takes the cheery greeting coucou as a declaration of war . . .

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

SHOW COMMENTS