If you’ve lived in France for a while, you will notice that there are certain “words” your French teacher didn’t tell you about: all those weird and funny French words in French that don’t sound that they are actual words.
You won’t find them in any dictionary or grammar book, but no French education would be complete without a few shoulder shrugs, eye rolls, and exasperated sighs. (Bonus points if you are holding a baguette at the same time.)
So loosen your jaw muscles, it’s time to learn a few odd french sounds, words and expressions. Allons-y!
Funny French words that are actually sounds
1. Allez hop! – There you go!
So “hop” is not actually a word that means anything French. Nevertheless, if you’re serving up pancakes (or crêpes!) and you spatula over a crêpe into a friend’s plate. You can add a little “Allez hop!” as you go.
2. Ben, Oui! – Duh, yeah!
I don’t know why kids love this expression, both of mine adopted this around the age of two. Note: The N at the end is not pronounced, it is more like “Beh”, than “Ben”.
- Me: “Do you want some milk?, Kid: Ben, Oui!”
- Kid: “Is the sky blue?”, Me: Ben, Oui!“
Either way, I would recommend that you not say this to a person of authority, like your boss, or a customs TSA officer.
3. Houp là! – Oops!
Almost slip on a toy car while carrying that big birthday cake with all the candles on? “Houp là!” (If you watch the British series Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig regularly says Houp Là in both the English and in the French versions. Some things I guess, do cross the channel.)
4. Ooh la la! – Oh dear!
“Ooh la la, is it really possible that French people say Ooh la la!?” In a word yes. It is not a stereotype, French people actually use Ooh la la in all sorts of situations to express:
- Surprise – “Ooh la la, what have you done!?”
- Wow – “Ooh la la, that’s amazing!”
- Negative reaction – “Ooh la la, you’re starting to annoy me!”
There are bonus points if you can “ooh la la la la la la“, with as many extra la’s as possible.
5. Pfff! – (sigh, with eyeroll)
“And then she came over to my place for a drink and didn’t even bring any macarons! Pffff!” I recommend rolling your eyes and gazing at the ceiling as you say this.
6. Oula! – Wow!
“Oula, isn’t that just the biggest engagement ring you’ve ever seen!” (Actually, French people wouldn’t say this, large engagement rings are not the trend in France.)
Along with “wow”, it is also an expression of alarm, as in “whoa there!”. For instance “Oula, qu’est-ce qui s’est passé!? Le lait est partout!” This would translate as “Omg, what happened!? The milk is everywhere!”
7. Ouah – Yeah
Just like Yeah in English is slang for Yes, Ouah is slang for Oui.
- Friend: “Wanna go for happy hour?”, Me: Ouah!”
If you are wondering, the French word for “Happy Hour” is “Apéro“, or you can just use “happy hour”, without pronouncing the H’s.
8. Aïe, Aïe, Aïe – Yikes!
“Aïe, aïe, aïe, I just stepped in some dog pooh!”
The stereotype of the Parisian not picking up after his/her dog is still true, but it is getting better. A bit.
9. Hein? – Huh?
Tourist in a restaurant: “Can I have some ketchup for my Confit au canard?, Waiter: Hein?”
Yes, that is exactly the look that the waiter will give you if you ask for ketchup. (Read more French dining do’s and don’ts here.)
10. Bof – (dislike)
Me: “How was the new gym?, French friend: “Bof, nothing to write home about!”
Weird and Funny Words which don’t mean what they say
English Translation: Abra-ca-dabra-esque
An example of this very long word would be politicians arguring about “Une politique abracadabrantesque“, meaning a “rather farfetched politics”, except in not so polite terms. (All politicians are a bit abracadabrantesque, no?)
English Translation: Packing cartons
Meaning: Highly successful
If you remember the song “We’re movin’ on up”, from the hit TV show The Jeffersons, this would be “cartonner”. Packing up the boxes, because you’ve hit the big time and can move on up.
English Translation: Puffing, smoking without inhaling
“I smoked but I didn’t inhale!” Crapoter literally translates into not inhaling, but more broadly means pretending to do something.
English Translation: Hurly Burly
Meaning: eccentric or weird person
This is an older expression and means a bit scatter-brained or strange. For Mr. Bean fans, he might be considered a hurluberlu.
English Translation: Popping a car tire off its rim
Meaning: Become a bit crazy
“The wheels are coming off his campaign!” Or in other words, “il est déjanté!“, meaning he is a bit off his head.”
English Translation: De-Countryfy-ing
Meaning: Disorienting, letting go of habits
Pays means “country” and Paysanne means “person who lives in the countryside”. So dépaysant, means to de-country-fy, but it actually means disorienting, or changing and letting go of old habits.
For example, “oui, j’ai adoré, mes vacances en Espagne étaient trés dépaysant!“, meaning “yes, I loved it, my holidays in Spain were very refreshing.”
English Translation: Thing
“Il demande ce machin ou la, tout le temps!” meaning “he is asking for this random thing or that, all the time”.
English Translation: the sound “Toot”
Meaning: the sound of flatulence
A polite way to say that someone farted! No additional explanation needed 😉
9. Monsieur Untel/ Madame Unetelle
English Translation: Mr and Mrs Untel
Meaning: Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So
Untel is not really a word, but a sound to say Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So. “Et en suite, j’ai parlé avec M. et Mme Untel, avant aller au déjeuner“, meaning “and then I spoke with so-and-so, before going to lunch”.
English Translation: Another way to say “Sacre bleu!”
Meaning: A polite way of swearing
There is no actual meaning to the word “saperlipopette”, it is a polite way of swearing, without actually saying the words.
It is rather old-fashioned and cute, and actually has recently been used as a brand name for restaurants and other ventures.
11. Ras le bol
English Translation: Pocket bowl
Meaning: Fed Up!
Ras is not really a word in French by itself, it could mean pocket, or it could mean to reassemble. And bol means bowl. However, when you put “ras le bol” together, it is an expression of deep frustration. “Ugh, j’ai ras le bol de mon taf”, meaning “I’m fed up of my work”!
English Translation: Someone who loves wearing pantoufs (which means “house slippers” in French)
Meaning: Someone who likes to stay home all day
If you enjoy hanging around in those cute and fluffy slippers (that may or may not have bunny years on them”) you may be a pantouflard.
English Translation: Like a cow
Meaning: So much, a lot
A vache is a cow in French, so at first glance, the French word “vachement” doesn’t make any sense. “Il a pris vachement longtemps“, meaning he took a really long time.
14. Pomme de Terre
English Translation: Apple of the ground
I don’t know why potatoes have turned into “apples of the ground”, but there you have it. See here for more funny French food expressions.
English Translation: Making yogurt
Meaning: singing badly off-key
You know when you are humming along to a song, without actually knowing all the lyrics? That would be “Yaourter” or “Chanter en yaourt“.
Meaning: Farfetched, Ridiculous
I just like the sound of this word, which is is not actually a word a proper word with conjugation, but a series of sound. Farfelou, indeed.
French children’s funny words
Young kids say a lot of funny things. And it adds a whole different level when those kids are born-and-bred little Frenchies.
Things that we are used to hearing in North America, are slightly different in France. It stands to reason I suppose, the language is not the same, but even after living in France for several years, I was surprised when my children started school and began coming home with different words that I hadn’t heard of.
Here is a collection of funny sayings, sounds, and phrases that you will mostly hear from French children.
1. “Berk” instead of “Yuck”
The correct pronunciation of “Berk” includes a throwing up reflex if you can manage that. I don’t know the linguistic origins of “Yuck”, so who is to say our common latin ancestors didn’t say “Berk” instead?
2. “Aiee” instead of “Ow!”
Drop a hammer on your foot? Aieeee!
The aieeeeee can go quite long, so prepare your vocal cords!
3. Oh la la!
On top of any french list of funny things kids say has to be when your 2-year old first comes home saying Oh la la. My kids can even do the extra inflections of the “la’s” with “oh la la la la la la!”
4. Caca Boudin
The first “gros mot” or swear word on the list. Every French child comes home from school saying this, it is as inevitable as the sun coming up in the morning. Caca is obviously caca and boudin is a type of sausage. So you can see where they are going with this.
☞ READ MORE: Caca Boudin: Your French Child’s first swear word
5. Bébé Cadum!
This is an odd one because it is actually a famous brand name of a baby hydrating cream. The ad has adorably chubby babies in it, which adults can lovingly coo over.
And there in lies the problem, at least in the minds of your young French Child. To them, bébé cadum is an insult, because of course he/she is no longer a baby! How dare you call them a baby!?
Hello Spiderman, meet the French accent. Every anglophone parent in France just sighs and desperately tries to correct this “speederman” business before the North American side of the family hears your little one say this. But there seems to be no help for it, at least as far as I can tell.
7. Ca casse les oreilles
To translate literally, this means “that is breaking my ears!”. Obviously a phrase uttered by a very exhausted and exasperated teacher, which has been picked up by those little monsters. I feel for the teacher.
☞ READ MORE: The French School Education System
8. J’ai le droit de faire ça!
Translation: “I have the right to do this!”
Alright, this one wouldn’t really be funny, except I promise you it really is when it is a 3-year-old saying it to you.
Because you are never too young to start protesting for your rights, your little French Revolutionary will throw this around as he is insisting he has the right to keep playing instead of having a bath tonight.
What is it with kids and baths, I ask you??
9. Pan pon
If you were not sure what “pan pon” is, in the head of your little French child, it is the sound that a fire truck makes. With the nasally n at the end of course.
French kids are experts at the nasal n at the end, because of course it is also in the word “Maman“.
French Animal Sounds
And now on to animal sounds. Who knew that even the animals make speak a different language? I could do a whole separate post on this, but anyway here goes:
1. Cocorico! – Cock
It is the national symbol of France, so who is willing to argue with the French that the sound cocks make is not “Cock-a-doddle-do” but Co-co-ri-co? I’m not sure you are going to win that argument.
2. Coin coin – Duck
No, that french duck is not saying quack, but rather “coin coin” with a nasally “n” at the end. Now you know.
3. Hi Han – Donkey
More nasally n’s here with the donkey, instead of the anglophone “hee-haw”. You also write the first part as “hi” instead of “hee” but they are both pronounced the same, since in French there are not really any words with “ee” in them.
4. Meuh – Cow
That sweet little cow is not saying “mooo”, but rather more of a curt “meuh” with the h at the end. I suppose it could be different species of cows, but the milk still tastes as sweet, doesn’t it? (Unless you are lactose intolerant, of course!)
Once you find yourself throwing out “bofs” and “bens” all over the place, congratulations, you are well on your way to becoming French! If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read about more funny French phrases and idioms here as well as other useful phrases.
I also have a small selection of funny french words that you can download below in flashcard format. A bientôt!