French Word of the Day: Bouchon

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

This French word has a variety of definitions - it can make drivers very unhappy indeed or make dinner guests smile.


Why do I need to know bouchon?

Because if you hear it on the traffic news you'd better brace yourself.

What does it mean?

Bouchon - roughly pronounced boo-shohn - is technically defined as ‘an object used to cap or stop a bottle.’ 

Most of the time you will hear this word in reference to wine - as it is the translation of ‘cork’ and therefore a corkscrew is un tire-bouchon or 'a pull-cork and wine that is 'corked' is bouchonné.

Generally, a bouchon is any object that obstructs or clogs - the English translation would be a stopper or a plug. As such, you might buy a kitchen sink-plug - or a bouchon d’évier in French.

Bouchons (usually in the plural form) is also used to describe a traffic jam or bottleneck - so if you see this on the matrix signs on autoroutes, prepare yourself for a slow journey.

You might also hear on the news that there are '30km de bouchons' - ie tailbacks 30km long.

The word bouchon can also be used in verb form - as the -ER verb boucher (to clog). So for instance, you could say ‘les toilettes sont bouchées’ (the toilet is clogged).

And finally, if you visit the French city of Lyon, you will also find ‘Bouchons’ all over the place. These bouchons are of a different kind - these are the traditional Lyonnais restaurants that serve hearty dishes, like sausages, coq-au-vin or delicious roast pork.

In this sense, the word bouchon arose from the local Lyon dialect. Historically, the original cabaretiers (those who traded wine and food in exchange for money) would hang a bundle of branches (usually pine) - called a bousche - on the door of their establishment. This showed locals that the space could be used as a meeting place. 


Use it like this

Je suis coincé dans les bouchons, je serai donc en retard. - I am stuck in traffic, so I’ll be late.

Le restaurant de luxe retire le bouchon de la bouteille de vin en douceur. - The fancy restaurant pulls the cork out of the wine bottle very smoothly.

Le drain est bouché. Vous devez appeler un plombier. – The drain is clogged. You need to call a plumber.


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