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French expression of the day: Tête à claque

In French, there's a proper expression dedicated to the phenomenon of having the urge slap someone hard across the face - even when there's no good reason.

French expression of the day: Tête à claque
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know tête à claque?

Because it’s one of those canny French expressions that the English language should have too.

What does it mean?

Tête à claque literally translates to 'head for slap', which is pretty close to exactly what it means. 

Have you ever met someone whose appearance or behaviour just makes your blood boil and your fists clench?

If the answer is yes, that person was – to you – une tête à claque, which is what the French call someone who just makes you want to slap them hard in the face.

Don't take our word for it – the definition of a tête à claque is “a person whose looks or behaviour provokes the urge to slap (them),” according to l'Internaute

It can be a massive know-it-all, a condescending mansplainer, an enormous teacher's pet – whatever triggers your fury.

It's not necessarily even their fault. The French online dictionary explains à tête à claque as someone whose appearance is agaçant ('annoying' or 'provoking').

The expression “seems to have originated at the end of the 19th century,” according to l'Internaute, so it's not even a recent invention.

Use it like this

Je ne la supporte pas, c'est une vraie tête à claque. – I can't stand her, she has a face I want to slap

Quelle tête à claque.. – What a slap-face..

Il est gentil, mais il est un peu tête à claque quand même. – He's nice, but I have a slight urge to slap him.






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For members


French Word of the Day: Bordéliser

This French expression is not the kindest, but it will certainly get your point across.

French Word of the Day: Bordéliser

Why do I need to know bordéliser?

Because when things feel chaotic, you might want to use this word.

What does it mean?

Bordéliser roughly pronounced bore-del-ee-zay – comes from the swear word “bordel” which means brothel.

In popular usage, bordel is used to describe a mess or a chaotic environment, and bordéliser turns the bordel into a verb – meaning to make or create disorder, disaster or chaos. 

During periods of unrest in France, you may hear people blame one group for causing the problem by using this expression. Keep in mind that bordéliser is not polite language – the English equivalent might be to “fuck (or screw) something up”.

One popular theory says that the root word bordel comes from medieval French – at the time, sex workers were explicitly not allowed to work near the ports, so they were relegated to wooden huts or small houses – or bordes, in French –  away from the city.

You may also hear another French expression that uses the same root word: “c’est le bordel”. 

This literally translates to “it’s a brothel” but it is used to describe a situation that’s untidy, messy or chaotic, both literally and figuratively as in  ‘what a bloody mess!’ or ‘it’s mayhem!’ or ‘what a disaster!’

Use it like this

Le militant accuse le gouvernement de bordéliser le pays avec sa réforme impopulaire. – The activist accuses the government of “fucking up” the country with its unpopular reform.

Tu as bordélisé l’appartement et notre dynamique de colocation en achetant le singe comme animal de compagnie. Qu’est-ce qui t’a pris ? – You have screwed up the apartment and our roommate dynamic by buying the monkey as a pet. What were you thinking?