Readers reveal: The best words in the French language

After a month of whittling down your nominations to a shortlist and then a week of voting we now have a winner in our quest to discover the best French word of them all.

Readers reveal: The best words in the French language
The results are in (and no, surprisingly, Champagne is not the winning word). Photo: AFP

During the month of August when it seems like most of France is at the beach we like to set readers of The Local little challenges – last year it was complex decisions on croissants v pain au chocolat – and this year we went for picking out the best word in the whole French language.

We received dozens of nominations and spent the whole of the month of August whittling them down to a shortlist through a series of daily polls on social media.


Hundreds of people voted to create the shortlist of 19 words, which we then spent a week voting on to secure the final winner.

Here's a few things we noticed about the shortlist.

A lot of gros mots – it seems that our readers really like swearing, which is fine with us because French does contain some really good swearwords and great expressions that you can hurl at your mortal enemies or the person who beat you to the last chouquette à la crème.

In the past we're written about the best French insults, the French insults that English really should have too and a loving-crafted ode to the swear-word that is our favourite and seems very popular with our readers too.

French's special untranslatable phrases were also quite popular – those words or expressions that we just don't have in English but which we really wish that we did.

Word that trip off the tongue. French is a notably elegant language that gives credence to whether a phrase sounds smooth enough and will sometimes even alter the rules of grammar to make a sentence flow better. Among the most popular words were descriptions for quite ordinary objects which people just love to say.

And it was two of these words that topped the chart – the French words for poppy and grapefruit, both of which trip off the tongue oh-so-musically.

Here is how the final results worked out.

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French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

This French expression has little to do with storage devices.

French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

Why do I need to know c’est le box?

Because you might have described your adolescent bedroom this way.

What does it mean?

C’est le box roughly pronounced say luh box – comes from the longer expression c’est le boxon, and does not have to do with a container to store things. In reality, c’est le box means either literally or figuratively that something is a mess or disaster.

It is a synonym for the more commonly used French expression c’est le bordel

Both are slang terms that border on being vulgar, are originally references to brothels, and describe disorder or disarray.

The word boxon first appeared in the early 1800s in the form of bocson, which meant cabaret and later “house of tolerance”. Its origins are disputed, but over the past two centuries it has come to be synonymous with a “place of debauchery” and later messiness and disorder.

You can also say “Quel box!” or “Quel Boxon!” to mean “What a mess!” or “What a disaster!”

If you are looking for a less vulgar way to describe a mess, you could instead say “c’est le bazar”.

Use it like this

C’est quand la dernière fois que tu as nettoyé ta chambre ? C’est le box ici. – When was the last time you cleaned your room? It is a disaster in here.

Je ne suis pas la seule personne qui pense que c’est le boxon dans cette ville en ce moment. – I’m not the only person who thinks this city is a mess right now.