Reader question: Why do the French call the Russian leader Poutine?

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Reader question: Why do the French call the Russian leader Poutine?
Don't call Vladimir Putin a cheesy chips street snack. Photo by Sergei Savostyanov / SPUTNIK / AFP

If you read French media you may have noticed that the the Russian premier's name is spelled Poutine, rather than the more usual western rendering of Putin, and his name is also pronounced differently.


Question: All French media seem to refer to the Russian leader as Poutine, rather than Putin - I always thought a poutine was a kind of snack?

In the west, you might be more used to seeing the Russian leader's name spelled as Vladimir Putin, but in France it is different, and for a rather amusing reason.

Because of the standard French pronunciation that does not sound out the final letter of a word, Putin in France would be pronounced puh-ta.

And that's essentially the same pronunciation as one of France's favourite words - putain.


Putain literally translates as whore, but it's used by the French in a way more similar to the English word fuck, although it's often used in milder contexts too - the tone of your voice is crucial.

Putain is absolutely France's go-to swearword, you'll hear it everywhere from softly muttered by the person who has dropped their glasses to screamed in rage during street brawls.

Putain: An ode to France's greatest swearword

But although it's popular it's not exactly polite, and would be unsuitable for the diplomatic world even if the Russian leader wasn't the sort of chap who you would think twice about calling a whore (at least to his face).

His name is therefore rendered in French as Poutine and pronounced Puh-teen.

For Canadians, however, his French rendering has an extra layer of meaning, as a poutine is an extremely popular snack consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Canadians enjoy a tasty poutine. Photo by Andrej Ivanov / AFP

Still, probably best to be thought of as a tempting junk food than a gros mot.


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bmwoy 2022/02/08 21:44
Well yes, it's all to do with the differences in pronunciation in our respective languages when transcribing from Cyrillic script. One thinks of Poutine's predecessors Eltsine and Khroutchtchev, not to mention Raspoutine the mad monk. And "Stalin" is quite a common name here and made me laugh at first, until I realised that the supreme leader is actually called "Staline" in French.

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