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French word of the day: Couac

French word of the day: Couac
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
No, this is not what French ducks say*.

Why do I need to know couac?

Because you'll often see it written next to politicians' names in the news section, which can be pretty confusing if you're translating it to the English 'quack'.

What does it mean?

Tap couac into Google Translate and you get 'quack' in English. 

However, the Google translation is a bit misleading. In English, 'quack' has two meanings: the harsh, throaty cry of a duck, or a fraudulent person pretending to have skills they do not possess (a charlatan).

In French, however, couac could refer to a 'jarring' or 'false' 'sound' or tone (which could be a duck's quack, depending on whether or not you like the sound ducks make).

But couac is more commonly used to talk about une maladresse, 'a blunder'

Un couac can be an act, a gesture, an event or a statement. Basically it refers to an incident that did not go the way it was meant to, 'a gaffe', 'a hiccup', 'an act of clumsiness'.

But couac is not really the same as une gaffe (a gaffe) or une boulette (a mishap) in French, which refers to the error itself. Couac refers to the event.

Couac is often used about politics, such as when the French government tried to extend the state of health emergency, but didn't have enough MPs present in the parliament.

AFP called it le couac d'hier soir – last night's blunder.

 

Use it like this

Quel énorme couac ! – What a massive blunder!

Je ne suis pas sûr que c'était un couac, je pense qu'ils tentaient de savoir combien de personnes étaient pour la suggestion. – I'm not sure that it was a mistake, I think they wanted to know how many people were in favour of the suggestion. 

On est au milieu d'une pandemie. Franchement ce n'est pas sérieux tous ces couacs gouvernementaux. – We're in the middle of a pandemic. Frankly all these government hiccups are not OK.

Synonyms

Cacophonie – discord

And if you were wondering what ducks do say in French, it's coin coin.

 


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