For members


French phrase of the day: Avoir du culot

This French expression has nothing to do with your underpants, even if it sounds like it does.

French phrase of the day: Avoir du culot
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know avoir du culot?

Because it's a common, colloquial expression.

What does it mean?

Avoir du culot translates as 'to have' culot.

Not to be confused with culotte (knickers), culot can mean 'bottom', 'base', 'butt', 'gall' or other things, depending on the context. For this purpose, however, it means 'nerve'.

Avoir du culot is common French way of saying someone is 'brash' or 'blunt'. It can also imply they are (sometimes overly) 'self-confident', 'gutsy' and 'courageous'.

As so many French personality traits, you HAVE rather than ARE culot, just like avoir du cran (being gutsy), avoir froid (being cold) or avoir faim (being hungry).

Culot is colloquial, much more so than its English closest equivalent 'having some nerve'. If you want to be more formal, you would use aplomb instead. For example, ne pas manquer d'aplomb translates as 'not lacking audacity', and means 'to have some nerve'.

Avoir du culot can be both a compliment and an insult, or both at the same time. It all depends on the context.

Use it like this

Tu as beaucoup de culot me dire ça après ce que tu m'as fait. – You have a lot of nerve to tell me that after what you did to me.

Elle a vraiment du culot, celle-là. Elle n'a peur de rien et elle dit toujours ce qu'elle pense. – She really has some nerve, that one. She is not afraid of anything and she always says what she thinks.

Il faut avoir du culot pour lancer sa propre entreprise au milieu d'une pandemie. – It takes guts to start your own business in the midst of a pandemic.

Quel culot ils ont, ces gens-là ! – What nerve they have, these people!


The synonyms below are close to avoir du culot, but culot implies a more prominent brashness than these.

Avoir de l'audace – to be brave

Avoir du cran – to be brave

Avoir du courage – being brave

Member comments

  1. Surely, the closest (UK) English equivalent is “to have (some) balls”?

    The British journalist Katy Balls “speaks to women at the top of their respective games, about their passions, their battles, and what makes them tick.”
    The podcasts are called “Women with Balls”

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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.