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French Expression of the Day: Rire jaune

This is a useful skill for keeping the peace or if you ever intend to enter politics.

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

Why do I need to know rire jaune? 

Because we’ve all done it at some point. 

What does it mean? 

Rire jaune, pronounced rear jone, literally translates as yellow laughter. 

But a more accurate translation would be forced laughter or a fake laugh.

It is thought to come from the 17th or 18th century – a time when many parts of the world, including France, were going through a hepatitis pandemic. Classic symptoms of this illness include yellowing of the skin and major physical discomfort. 

Logically, the pain meant that patients suffering with the condition were not predisposed to having a good time meaning that any laughter was likely forced. 

Other theories as to the origins of this expression point towards France’s historical association of the colour yellow with evil, discoloured gold and Judaism – all of which were seen as linked to the notion of duplicity.

Another hypothesis is that that people used to believe that consuming saffron, a yellow spice, could lead people towards madness and uncontrollable laughter. 

In the court of Louis XVIII, the full expression used was rire jaune comme farine – To laugh forcibly like flour (flour at the time, was slang for dishonesty). 

Whatever the true origins of this expression, you should use it like this:

Il a rit jaune – He gave a forced laugh

C’était un rire jaune – It was a forced laugh

Quelques rires se font entendre, peut-être jaunes – Some laughs, perhaps forced, were heard 

International alternatives  

Italians use the expression ridere verde (Green laughter) to mean the same thing. 

The Dutch say lachen als een boer die kiespijn heeft (to laugh like a farmer with a toothache) and the Romanians say a râde mânzeşte (to laugh like a foal). 

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La clim’

You'll definitely want to know about this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: La clim'

Why do I need to know la clim’?

Because the lack of green spaces in cities might find you looking desperately for fresh air.

What does it mean?

La clim’, pronounced la-cleem, means air conditioning, it is a shortened version of la climatisation.

Climatisation comes from the word climatiseur, which itself comes from Klima in Greek and means the inclination of planet Earth from the equator to the poles. This inclination of the planet on its axis is responsible for the seasons and if you find yourself in a French city in August your inclination will definitely be towards climatisation.

Air-conditioning in private homes is not common France, some hotels have it but not all and in the summer months restaurants will often advertise air-con if they have it, as a way of luring in hot-and-bothered tourists.

If you find yourself desperate for cool air, head to a supermarket – almost all French supermarkets are air-conditioned in the summer. Or for a more fun option just head to the nearest city fountain or water feature and join the locals who are splashing around to cool off.

Use it like this

Il fait très chaud, avez-vous la clim’ dans votre hotel ? – It’s really hot, do you have air-con in the hotel?

Je n’aime pas mettre la clim’ en route car cela est mauvais pour la santé et l’environnement – I don’t like turning on the AC, it’s bad for my health and for the environment

Il fait froid, peut-on s’il vous plait éteindre la clim’ ? – It’s cold, could  we turn off the air-con?

La clim’ fait beaucoup de bruit, pouvons-nous la mettre en sourdine ? – This AC is really noisy, could we turn it down?


Un climatiseur – the formal name for an air-conditioner (in French the air conditioning is feminine by the air conditioner is masculine)

Un ventilateur – a ventilator

Un Brumisateur – a ‘fogger’ – these machines which pump out cool water vapour are often seen on the streets and in parks during the summer

Un Rafraichisseur d’air – an air freshener