French word of the day: Gnangnan

French word of the day: Gnangnan
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
It may look like we fell asleep on our keyboard, but this word does exist - and it's not the French version of Gangnam Style.

Why do I need to know gnangnan?

Because it’s the ultimate way of discarding something as boring in France.

What does it mean?

Gnangnan is pronounced ‘nyan-nyan’, which sounds like a double-yawn. In order to get it right, your voice needs to be thick and nasal, like this:

Gnangnan is an onomatopoeia, which means that it means exactly what it sounds like.

When something is gnagnang, it’s ‘boring’, ‘dull’, ‘listless’ – just thinking about it makes you want to fall asleep. It can be a party, an idea or whatever, anything that you would characterise as ‘unstimulating’.

French online dictionary l’Internaute defines gnangnan as mou, which is the French word for “soft” (and not in a good way). Someone who is gnangnan is “weak”, and “likes calm things without surprises”, it says. Being gnangnan can refer to complaining at the littlest effort.

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It’s definitely colloquial, but it’s not vulgar. Sometimes people spell it gnan-gnan, gnian-gnian, nian-nian or gnagna. Generally, though, it’s gnagnan, even in its plural and feminine form.

Like many French words gnangnan is used differently by different people, and some use it to say that something is ‘corny’ or ‘cute’.

Use it like this

Je n’ai pas vraiment envie d’y aller, ses soirées sont toujours un peu gnangnan. – I don’t really want to go, her/his parties are always a bit dull.

J’étais surpris, je croyais qu’elle était vraiment gnangnan, mais elle a fait un super discours au parlement l’autre jour. – I was surprised, I thought that she was really uninspiring, but she gave a great speech in parliament the other day.

Je déteste les films gnangnan, ça me met mal à l’aise. – I hate corny movies, they make me uncomfortable.


Mièvre – childish and dull

Fade – dull

Lambin – slowpoke

Lent – slow

Member comments

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  1. I’ve far more often heard the word “gnangnan” used to describe something cutesy or corny, as in “I can’t believe you’re still wearing those gnangnan pioneer dresses from the 70s – and not even ironically!”

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