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French expression of the day: Ta mère

This is a common French expression, but one we recommend you know, rather than show.

French expression of the day: Ta mère
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ta mère?

Because if you spend some time in France you will undoubtedly come across someone bellowing this at some point and it's nice to know they're not actually calling for their mama (or yours). 

What does it mean?

Ta mère, which directly translates as 'your mother', is a colloquial slang insult in France, which means 'screw you', 'fuck you' or 'piss off'.

'Your mother' or 'yo mamma' exists in many languages, and is not a nice thing to say, but the French variant is very common here in France.

The full – and more vulgar – expression is nique ta mère (screw your mother), which basically is the English equivalent of 'go fuck yourself'.

Even if ta mère is not actually hitting out at the mother mentioned (she's more like linguistic collateral damage), it's extremely rude and derogatory towards women.

Therefore this might fall into the category of 'know it, don't show it' – something that is useful to know but we wouldn't recommend using.

Sa mère (their mother) is another variant of ta mère, which is more general and can mean simply 'shit' or 'fuck', or be directed at someone who is not present.

READ ALSO: Getting explicit: Your guide to how to swear like a French person

There's a wonderful French comedy called Neuilly sa mère ! (Fucking Neuilly), about a young boy called Sami who has to move from his impoverished Parisian banlieue to the wealthy, snobbish suburb of Neuilly.

Use it like this

This expression is obviously very much a swearword and the examples below just meant to give you an idea of what it means.

Ta mère ! – Son of a bitch!

La pandémie coronavirus sa mère ! J'en peux plus de gestes barrières.. – This bloody coronavirus pandemic! I'm sick of health rules..

Sa mère, qu'est-ce qu'il est interminable janvier. – Bloody hell, January is neverending.


Fils de pute – son of a bitch


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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.