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French Word of the Day: Louche

The Local France
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French Word of the Day: Louche
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French word can be useful when cooking or describing strange behaviour - but doesn't have the same sense as the English version.

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Why do I need to know louche?

Because if you are watching a French spy show, this word might come up a few times.

What does it mean?

Louche roughly pronounced loosh is technically the French term for a large, long-handled spoon or ladle, usually used for serving soup and liquid dishes.

You might be familiar with the English version of this word, which was once a popular way of describing a person of semi-questionable morals, usually relating to sexual morals. The term in English sometimes carries an undertone of being appealing or attractive - with a 'bad boy' appeal. 

The second definition of the French word is closer to its English counterpart, as it refers to a person or thing that is “not clear or not honest.” That being said, if you call someone louche in French, it would not be taken as a compliment. 

The French version of louche would more likely be a ‘shady individual’ or someone who is suspicious. 

This version of the French word arose in the 12th century, first as lois and then as lousch, referring to someone who does not see well or who has a disability causing their pupils to move in different directions.

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At the time, it was not uncommon for people to connect vision with perceptions of honesty (‘the eyes being the windows of the soul’, as explained by French language guardians, the Académie Française). 

By the 19th century, the word had evolved to refer to someone appearing shifty and untrustworthy. 

As for French synonyms, you may have heard the term chelou, which also refers to something or someone acting in a bizarre or suspect way. Chelou is the verlan (backwards slang) version of louche, and thus more colloquial.

Otherwise, you might say suspect or douteux.

Use it like this

J'ai été suivi jusqu'à la gare par un homme très louche. – I was followed to the train station by a very shady man.

Son comportement a été louche ces derniers temps. Je pense qu'il a peut-être une liaison. – His behaviour has been strange lately. I think he may be having an affair.

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