Seven Phrases the French Love To Use (And A Brief Update On Life)


Yep, it’s been a little while. Despite increased internet access and the time and wherewithal to write blog posts, I just haven’t really felt up to it. Book reviews seem to require too much thought, tourism posts seem to require too many touristy photo shoots, and general musings are being sorted out in my own head rather than on this blog. But, I promised a review of either a) E.E. Cummings’ “The Enormous Room” or b) Andrew Davidson’s “The Gargoyle” and Cummings won out, so that will be coming out within (hopefully) a week. Or so.

But in the mean time, as a sort of random exploratory I-don’t-know-if-anyone-will-give-a-shit-about-this-post kind of way, I’m going to do a filler post. I’m going to fill the post with a list. Everyone loves lists, right? And I think this list might be at least a little bit amusing, maybe, perhaps?


The TITLE of THE LIST: Seven Phrases With Which The French Are Absolutely Obsessed

The CONTENT of THE LIST (accompanied by translations and a brief hopefully-at-least-a-little-bit-amusing exposition):

1) “Truc” – The word “truc” is parallel with the word “chose” also in French; in English it roughly approximates to “thing”, as in “give me that truc there,” or “we have to go to that truc this afternoon,” or “what’s that truc there?” or “and I was on top of the giant truc this afternoon”. What I find mostly hilarious about the word “truc” is it’s absolute applicability to EVERYTHING. I mean, literally, the word “truc” can be applied to just about any noun in the world, with the possible exception of proper nouns–but I’m fairly certain they could find a way to say “I’m going to the *truc* this weekend” and by that they might possibly mean “I’m going to Paris this weekend” or something.

2) “La-bas” – A sort of parallel to “truc” but on a different line. La-bas roughly means “there” in English, as in, “give me that thing la-bas” or “the vineyard is over la-bas” or “China is over la-bas”. “La-bas” can apply to distances that vary from several centimeters away from one’s hand to several thousand miles away. I once asked in which direction Germany was (for a sense of direction) and an aimless Frenchman gestured wavingly with his hand and said “it’s la-bas”. I am quite certain I could ask in which direction the Andromeda Galaxy is and a French astronomer would either point at the sky or at a star map and say “c’est la-bas”.

3) “Bah” – Less of a word than an exclamation, “bah” comes in all shapes and sizes. “Bah oui!” and “Bah non!” are two of the most commonly heard French expressions. But it comes in other forms as well. “Bah, the give me the truc la-bas,” or “Bah, well, good,” are also not uncommon. It’s a little like pepper–it doesn’t say a whole lot itself, but it certainly adds a little bit of spice when used in great quantities.

4) “C’est clair / C’est ca / C’est vrai” – Expressions of agreement, this translates to “it’s clear / it’s that / it’s true.” It’s sort of like saying “obviously” or “evidently” in English, but I find it vastly more annoying and interesting because of how frequently the French use it. It’s almost more like “Yeah!” or “No, totally,” or “Yeah, no, I agree,” in its frequency of usage. One can use any variety of these expressions at any point in which one is in the slightest agreement with something that someone else has said. “It’s hot outside!” says one; “Oui, c’est ca!” says the other. “This is some amazing banana bread!” “C’est vrai!” “It’s going to rain…” “Oui, c’est clair”.

5) “En faite” – This translates literally to “in fact”. But the French say it as a preface or an epilogue to nearly 50% of the sentences they utter. As in, “En faite, it’s hot outside,” or “En faite, I’m leaving now,” or “I’m really hungry, en faite”. As if they needed to say “in fact” to accentuate that they are, in fact (ha ha ha), speaking the truth. Like maybe we all thought they didn’t normally say what they meant, and they need to delineate when they’re saying true things and when they’re saying non-true things.

6) “Ah bon?” – An expression of surprise, from mild to extreme. It can even just be an expression of registration, as in, “I heard you”. It translates, literally, to “Ah, good?” but in reality the “bon” part has nothing to do with the sentiment behind the phrase. When you hear “ah, bon,” it is always accompanied by raised eyebrows, slightly parted lips, and big wide eyes. “We harvested twelve kilos of zuccini this morning!” would result in “Ah, bon?” Or, “I only slept five hours last night,” would give the same result. I hear this phrase, perhaps not as much as “la-bas” or “truc”, but at least thirty to forty times per day.

7) Par contre – Translates to “by contrast”. I was taught in school that “par contre” was an expression used for debating and arguments, for sophisticated discussions of statistics and political knowledge, etc etc. I was also taught that it meant the same thing in French as the English translation, i.e. that it meant you were about to say something opposing, or in contrast to whatever the previous statement had been. But it turns out that the French use “par contre” just about anytime they want to say something slightly off the previous subject. So, for instance: “It’s going to rain,” “Yes, I agree, but par contre, we should work faster to avoid the rain.” Or, “I’m hungry!” “Yes, but par contre, you’re not harvesting enough zuccini.” Or, “I really wish I’d remembered to bring my camera here,” “Par contre, I wish I’d brought mine too.”

Well! I don’t know if these expressions (and their perpetual presence in the language) will be as amusing to anyone who doesn’t actually speak French, but to me, they were, and continue to be, hilarious in their frequency of use.

So, until next time, when I will procure either a) a book review of “The Enormous Room” or b) a series of touristy but beautiful photos and a detailed explanation of why the Cotes du Rhone is the greatest place in the world. Cheers!