For members


French expression of the day: Fou rire

In French, having the giggles literally makes you crazy.

French expression of the day: Fou rire
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know fou rire?

Because it's hilarious.

What does it mean?

Fou rire directly translates as ‘crazy laugh’, which is the very canny French way of saying 'getting the giggles' or 'cracking up laughing'. It's not just a polite chuckle, it's when you cannot stop laughing.

Having the giggles – which for some reason sometimes tends to happen at the worst possible  moments – does indeed make you seem like a crazy person, which the French language has embraced.

If you've never had the giggles, it looks like this:

Sometimes fou rires become even more fou when you try and control them. That was the case for French MP Valérie Boyer back in 2015, when she was caught by uncontrollable giggles as she tried to give a speech in the French parliament. 


In 2019, BBC anchor Simon McCoy did a quite impressive job of – nearly, but not quite – suppressing his fou rire when telling the absurd, but true, story of a Swiss yodelling festival being interrupted by Swiss Army Jets.


Use it like this

J’ai eu un fou rire comme jamais avant, je n’arrivais pas à m'arrêter. – I was laughing like I've never laughed before, I couldn't stop.

Elle a eu un tel fou rire qu'elle a dû quitter la salle de reunion. – She was giggling so hard that she had to leave the meeting room.

Quand il est tombé sur la scène j'ai eu le plus gros fou rire de ma vie ! – When he fell onstage I laughed the hardest I've ever laughed my entire life.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.