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French word of the day: Boulette

Whether you're a foodie or just learning French, you will likely make this at some point.

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

Why do I need to know boulette?

Not only is it a word you will hear in France, it's also the title of a very popular rap song that a lot of French people will make references too.

What does it mean?

Boulette means 'ball' in French.

The most common way of using boulette is boulettes de viande, which means meatballs.

But it does have a few other meanings in French, and when ordering spaghetti with meatballs, you will have to ask for des spaghettis aux boulettes de viande, so you actually need to specify that it's balls of meat you're looking for.

In primary school, it’s also common that pupils throw des boulettes de papier (crumpled paper balls) at each other during classes.

Though if you hear j’ai fait une boulette, it has nothing to do with meatballs or any other balls for that matter.

In this sense, une boulette means 'a blunder', 'a mistake' or 'a gaffe'.

If you are the one who’s made the mistake, someone might comment oh, la boulette !, meaning ‘what an idiot!'

Boulette can also be a derogatory insult directed at someone's physical appearance.

Quelle boulette – What a fatty.


This is obviously an insult and we don't suggest you use the expression like this, but it's key to understand the French star rapper Diam’s hit song La Boulette, which according to the rapper herself, “the boulette, it’s me! Is there a problem with that? I love to eat, screw you,’ she said.


Use it like this

J’ai fait une grosse boulette, j’ai perdu mes clefs – I’ve screwed up, I lost my keys

Les boulettes de viande de viande de ma maman sont les meilleures – My mom’s meatballs are the best

On a fait une bataille de boulettes de papier à l’école – We had a paperball fight at school


Boule – Ball

Erreur – Mistake

Bêtise – Foolishness

By Gwendoline Gaudicheau

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

He's the legendary Englishman who is surprisingly relevant to French political discourse.

French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

Why do I need to know Robin des bois?

Because you might be wondering why the French reference this English outlaw during protest movements 

What does it mean?

Robin des bois roughly pronounced roe-bahn day bwah – is the French version of “Robin Hood” – the legendary outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. 

Robin Hood is part of English folklore, with the first references to him occurring sometime during the 13th or 14th century. He did not become Robin des bois for some time – as the legend did not spread to the majority of French people until at least the 18th or 19th century. 

Robin des bois most likely made his big entrance on the French stage in the 19th century when the novel Ivanhoe (1819), which tells tales of medieval England, was translated into French. 

The fabled outlaw was welcomed by the French, particularly romantic writers and thinkers of the time who saw him as a symbol of the fight against the aristocracy. 

But the French had their own versions of Robin Hood before the English legend made its way to l’Hexagone – like the “Louis Mandrin” who supposedly rebelled against corrupt tax collectors during the Ancien Regime. 

Over the years, the French – particularly those on the political left – have evoked “Robin des bois” during strikes and protests, and it’s relatively common to see protest movements or direct action groups name themselves after Robin Hood.

The English outlaw also had his own French television series between 1963 and 1966 – though this time he was called “Thierry La Fronde” and he lived in France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Use it like this

Nous devons nous attaquer aux actions de Robin des Bois afin d’aider la classe ouvrière à payer leurs factures d’énergie, a déclaré le syndicat dans un communiqué de presse. – We must take action like Robin Hood to help the working class pay for their energy bills, the union said in a flyer. 

Le restaurateur était un véritable Robin des Bois – il avait tendance à surfacturer les tables des riches et à sous-facturer celles de la classe populaire. – The restaurant owner was a real Robin Hood – he had a tendency of overcharging tables of rich people and under-charging those of poor folks.