Five sexy-sounding French words that are actually totally innocent

French is the language of love isn't it? Perhaps that's why so many perfectly innocuous French words sound steamy or downright explicit to English ears.

As an anglophone, there are several times that the French language might make you blush, but you might be surprised that these five words’ true definitions are actually not too steamy after all. 

Concubinage – This might sound like a 17th century mistress in English, so you’ll be surprised to see it on several formal documents in France. You might even be a concubine without knowing it!

In French, though concubinage is the legal designation for a couple that lives together, but is not married or PACsed (civil partnership). You can even get a certificate from the mairie declaring that you’re a concubine. 

Les concubins ne peuvent se céder des droits à prêt d’épargne logement – Those are living together but married or in a civil partnership may not transfer home savings loan rights to each other

READ MORE: Are you a concubine in French law? (It doesn’t mean what you think it does)

Célibataire – To anglophones, this word might conjure up ideas of pious religious figures who abstain from sexual intercourse, but in France about 18 million people reported themselves as célibataire last year and that certainly does not mean they were staying pure.

In reality, the word in French does not translate to the English word ‘celibate,’ instead its more accurate equivalent is ‘unmarried’ or ‘single person.’ If you do not have a partner or spouse, then in France you are by definition célibataire and you will probably find yourself ticking that box on a lot of forms.

Il est célibataire depuis cinq ans et il en est heureux – He has been single for the last five years and he is happy about it.

Promiscuité – In France, it is not uncommon to see newspaper headlines warning people to avoid promiscuité.

Government officials are not actually concerned about your sexual morality, that’s your private life and entirely up to you.

In fact, although the term in French can have a more explicit meaning of a person who has multiple partners, its more common usage is ‘overcrowded,. So really these government announcements about promiscuité are trying to help you avoid being stuck in large throngs of people, most recently for public health reasons in the pandemic years.

La Première ministre recommande de porter le masque dans les lieux de promiscuité – The prime minister recommends wearing a mask in crowded areas.

Une affaire – If your French friend tells you that everyone in the office is involved in the affaire, they are not informing you that the entire company is cheating on their partners with one another.

The confusion goes both ways, because in English if you tell a French friend you’re excited to come to Paris to have ‘les aventures‘ you might get a confused expression in response. That is because une affaire in French refers to a business dealing or matter, and les aventures is the actual way to refer to a love affair.

Tout le monde est très engagé dans cette affaire. Les risques sont élevés pour l’entreprise – Everyone is very engaged in this business matter. The stakes are high for the company.

Affaire is also used in a political context in a similar way to the English -gate suffix for a scandal. So McKinseygate in English would be L’affaire McKinsey in French.

Une douche – Telling someone you are going to go prendre une douche might feel a bit weird to say, as the English word ‘douche’ either refers to a cleansing solution to be used under the belt or is used as an insult for a particularly obnoxious person.

In French, the term is simply the equivalent of ‘shower’ in English, so even though it might take some getting used to, it is a word you’ll hear quite often in France.

J’ai pris une douche à côté de la plage après avoir nagé dans l’océan. C’était très rafraîchissant. – I took a shower next to the beach after swimming in the ocean. It was very refreshing.

The faux-amis go both ways though, and we anglophones can make our French counterparts blush by accidentally saying some phrases that are less than innocent in Molière’s language.

It is easy to mistake preservatif for the English word preservative, even though it means condom in French, just as it can be hard to remember that exhibition is definitely not the word for an art show in French. Well, maybe a very particular type of art show, if that’s your preference. 

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The French words you need to understand France’s cost of living crisis

Households in France, as elsewhere around the world, are feeling the economic squeeze right now as prices rise, but wages don’t. The Local has put together a vocabulary list to help you understand the cost of living crisis:

The French words you need to understand France's cost of living crisis

Despite the efforts of the French government to keep a lid on certain costs – notably by capping fuel prices and energy bills, there’s no denying that weekly spending is taking a hit.

Here are a few of the phrases that you’ll hear bandied about at the moment, from pouvoir d’achat to anti-gaspi…

READ ALSO OPINION: France cannot afford to keep shielding consumers from energy price rises

Pouvoir d’achat – pronounced poo-vwah dasha – purchasing power. What you can buy with the hard-earned money in your bank account, and how far your monthly income goes. Used to call for government action on the cost of living, and rail against any efforts seen as “not going far enough”.

Coût de la vie – pronounced coo de la vee – cost of living. Self explanatory, really. 

Crise énergétique – pronounced creez enner-jhet-eek – energy crisis. French consumers have, so far, been pretty well protected from high prices on the international energy market caused by the war in Ukraine. Current protections are set to end next year.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Bouclier tarifaire – pronounced boo-klee-ay tari-fair – tarif shield. What’s protecting consumers in France from all those energy price rises. A super image concocted by a clever government speech writer.

READ ALSO 10 ways EU countries plan to cut your energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Chèque énergie – pronounced sheck ener-jhee – energy cheque. A payment made by the government to some 12million households in France to help offset at least part of the rising cost of energy.

Les factures – pronounced lay fac-ture – bills. As in electricity, gas.

Augmentations des prix – pronounced org-men-tas-eon day pree – price increases. You might see this phrase when French media discuss the rising cost of food, energy and much more. Some synonyms for this phrase that you might also see in the French press are ‘grimpe‘ – which means to climb, ‘hausse‘ which means increase or rise, or ‘flambée‘ which means an ‘explosion in prices.’

Les plus modestes – pronounced ley ploo mod-est – the least well-off [households in France], who are most likely to find it hardest to cope with unfettered rising prices. You may also see the phrase ‘les classes moyennes‘ in conversations about low to medium income families.

Foyers – pronounced foy-ey – a family home.

Fournisseurs – pronounced four-nee-sirs – these are ‘suppliers’ or ‘providers.’ In the context of the cost of living crisis, you will likely see people talking about energy providers, such as EDF, the mostly state-owned utility company.

Sobriété énergétique – pronounced so-brie-ett-ay enner-jhet-eek – energy sobriety. Despite the bouclier and the energy cheque, businesses and individuals have been warned to ease up on their energy use as France seeks to cut consumption by 10 percent.

READ ALSO ‘Slower lifts’: What ski resorts in France will do to save energy this winter

This is known as energy sobriety, careful, abstemious living, involving simple measures such as turning the lights off and the thermostat down.

READ ALSO Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

All French local authorities are required to produce as the government works on a nationwide strategy for sobriété enérgetique.

READ ALSO Paris to scale back monument lighting to cut energy use

Anti-gaspillage (or anti-gaspi) – pronounced anti gaspy-arj  – anti-waste. A long-time environmental concern that has financial implications and is being reused in the current economic situation to reference how much food is bought then wasted. You may have seen the big anti-gaspi signs at supermarkets in sections where produce close to its use-by date is sold-off at a discount.

READ ALSO How France’s new anti-waste laws will affect you

Renoncer – pronounced re-non-say – to give up, or cut out. As in people giving up going on vacation to save money.

Paiement fractionné – pronounced pay-mon frac-sion-ay – split payments, or payment in instalments for goods and services.

Dépenses automatiques – pronounced day-ponce auto-mat-eek – “automatic” expenses. Baked-in monthly or weekly expenses that every household has to consider, and cannot easily reduce, such as rent, water and energy … and more modern “necessities” including internet and mobile phone subscriptions.

Geste – pronounced jhest – literally translates as gesture or action. But it stands for something more concrete than the symbolic “gesture” in the English language. It’s a behaviour, or habit – an action – that can be adopted to cut costs, or save energy.

READ ALSO French Word of the Day: Geste

Épicerie Solidaire – pronounced eh-pee-seree solid-air – Solidarity shop. Not a food bank, but qualifying households can buy food and drink at about 10 percent of their retail price. There’s a limit on how much you can spend, and only households in acute straitened times can use them.