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French Word of the Day: Gougnafier

If you're after slightly old-fashioned insults with a modern political twist, we have just the thing.

French Word of the Day: Gougnafier
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know the word gougnafier? 

Because this antiquated insult has been in the news recently after it was – allegedly – used to describe the British Prime Minister.

What does it mean? 

Gougnafier (pronounced ‘Goo-naf-yay’) loosely translates as ‘knucklehead’.

It is an insult that implies a certain boorish and clumsy incompetence and, like its British translation, is regarded as slightly old-fashioned and quaint.

It’s been in the news this week because Le Canard Enchainé, a weekly newspaper that many see as the French equivalent of the UK’s Private Eye, recently reported that French president Emmanuel Macron privately refers to Boris Johnson as a gougnafier and a clown (un clown – pronounced ‘cloon’ in French). 

It’s not the first time that Macron’s slightly antiquated vocabulary has raised some eyebrows in France, during the 2017 election campaign he introduced us to the phrase Poudre de Perlimpinpin.

Use it like this:

Johnson a une attitude de gougnafier – Johnson has the attitude of a knucklehead

Il est un gougnafier – He is a knucklehead

C’est très triste de voir un grand pays conduit par un gougnafier – It is very sad to see a great country led by a knucklehead 


There are various words that can be used to call someone an impolite, boorish, caddish, useless, silly fool. Here is a small selection: Un goujat, un rustre, un lourdaud, un clown, un malotru, and un paltoquet.

Member comments

  1. So is this where the English word ‘goon’ comes from? Seems to have the same meaning, roughly. The thought of the UK Cabinet as The Goon Show rather appeals to me……

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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.