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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

When ‘franglais’ in French adverts goes horribly wrong

Advertisers seem to find it irresistible to drop English words into French adverts - and vice versa - but this can lead to some very awkward translation fails. Here are some of the funniest (and NSFW) examples of 'franglais' going wrong.

When 'franglais' in French adverts goes horribly wrong
English phrases are common in French advertising. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

In France Burger King’s new advert for its bacon burger has been raising eyebrows – and fits of giggles – among English-speakers thanks to its unfortunate use of English.

The advert is announcing the return of the Bacon Lover burger and attempts a pun on the popular phrase ‘faire son come-back‘ – although come-back is an anglicism, the phrase faire le come-back is widely used in France, especially among younger people.

The advert’s copywriters then attempted to add in a bacon pun and ended up with the strapline Il fait son come-bacon (it’s made its come-back).

Unfortunately, ‘come’ in English is also widely used as a slang term for both orgasm and semen, so for native speakers of English, the advert appeared to be for a ‘semen bacon burger’ – leading to it being widely shared and mocked on social media.

And it’s not the only example of the addition of English words that make French marketing slightly surprising. 

Likewise this French bookstore’s attempt to pun on the English word ‘book’ leads to a rather aggressive ambience.

But it’s not just French copywriters who are prone to this, English-language adverts often contain a sprinkling of French words in order to give a more ‘sophisticated’ image.

This can backfire, however, as in the below advert for a range of frozen canapés.

The original strap-line ‘little bites, big compliments’ makes perfect sense in English, along with a trio of people apparently enjoying a laugh and a bite-sized morsel.

However, the copywriters then attempt to give it a French flavour by substituting petite for ‘little’ – unfortunately une bite in French (pronounced beet) is a slang term for penis, so now the line reads ‘little pricks, big compliments’ and the laughter of the women in the picture takes on a slightly different tone.

The word bite is a frequent offender here, with Marks & Spencer’s range of ‘mini bites’ provoking giggles among shoppers in Paris, where the British products are sold without being translated into French.

Likewise the below Kit-Kat chocolate snacks on sale in Montreal include both the English and the French for the word ‘bites’, but to French-speakers look like they’re called ‘bite-sized cocks’.

Also into the Franglais hall of fame goes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attempted to diffuse a cross-Channel row about defence contracts by telling the French to ‘Donnez-moi un break‘ (give me a break).

The phrase from the (fluent French-speaking) British PM, caused some confusion since un break is frequently used in France to mean a family car or station wagon.

So Johnson appeared to be saying ‘Give me a family vehicle’ – which might at least come in handy to transport his unspecified number of children. 

And it’s not just Franglais that runs the risk of this type of translation failing.

The below Swedish advert attempted to make a pun on ‘tea’ and ‘therapist’ and ended up appearing to warn shoppers about the tea-rapist.

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READER QUESTIONS

Don’t ask Google, ask us: Why is France in Mali?

In this mini series, The Local answers common questions that comes up when you start typing questions with "France" or "the French" into the Google search engine.

French soldiers in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane.
French soldiers in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane. Photo: Florent Vergnes/AFP

Why is France . . . in Mali?

You might not immediately associate the west African country with France, but in fact France has had a major military presence there since 2013 and ‘why is France in Mali’ is the third most popular suggestion from Google when we asked ‘why is France’.

Commonly referred to in the French media by its army name of Opération Barkhane, the French military operations in Mali have been the source of some controversy and political tension for several years, and in February 2022 president Emmanuel Macron announced the end of operations in Mali and the withdrawal of French troops.

Mali, in West Africa, is one of the 25 poorest countries in the world and also forms part of the region known as Sahel, the region of North Africa which includes countries such as Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Since 2012 Sahel has been at the centre of armed conflict with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaida and Islamic State and since 2013 French troops have been taking part in an international operation against the extremists. It is centred in Mali because of the estimated 2,000 fighters in the region, more than 1,000 are from Mali.

France has historic links with Mali – until 1960 is was a French colony – but the French military, the largest in the EU, takes part in many international operations – it has been engaged in nine countries since 2011.

Since the beginning of the operation, 52 French soldiers have died, about 8,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and 2 million were displaced by the fighting.

In June 2021, the French government decided that the army would progressively leave the country, a withdrawal that was accelerated in 2022 after a breakdown in relations with the ruling junta in Mali. 

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