If there was ever a word to give you that warm fuzzy feeling, Coucou in French is it. The informal French hello, it could be slang, but in a soft and gentle way meaning bonjour. An informal “my darling” kind of thing.
The formal way to say hello in French is “Bonjour”, which literally translates to “Good day”. There are a whole bunch of accompanying rules to saying bonjour properly. French people hold a lot of stock in saying Bonjour as a greeting, before proceeding into further conversation. Even small children are expected to know these manners at a young age.
All this formality though doesn’t cover those occasions when French people are ready to let their hair down: when talking to their loved ones.
Originally meant as the English version of Peek-a-boo for young children, Coucou has grown beyond that initial sentiment. Today, it has become the French one-word version of “Hi my darling, how are you!?It’s been a while!” Pretty good for a word that is only 6 letters long, that sounds like a birdcall in a forest. Or rather, a cuckoo clock.
Other Similar sounding words
There are a lot of French informal words that end in the “ou” sound that you would be hard-pressed to find in a dictionary: coucou, loulou, doudou, etc. Loulou is another way to say “my dear” , so you could say something like “coucou mes loulous!” to your kids, as an example.
Doudou, if you are wondering, is for the favorite toy of a child, and Nounou is the French word for Nanny. Children’s names can also be rounded off with the “ou” to become nicknames: such as Philou for Philip, or Lilou for Lily.
If you are noticing a trend with all these words revolving around children, you would not be wrong: it is a suffix of affection, especially around children, who find its vowel sounds easy to say. My kids learned very early on to proclaim their coucou‘s and doudou‘s.
Bonjour vs Coucou
Now to be clear, Coucou is a rather recent addition to the French dictionary. It is mostly used by young people, and more often by women rather than men. Two men will more likely greet each other with a Bonjour, or Salut, rather than Coucou. It is most often used when speaking informally to children or a loved one. Close friends, especially Parisienne women, never hesitate to use Coucou in speech or in email.
So next time instead of saying the very long “hello my dear, how are you”, etc, etc, just let the Coucou(s) fly. I know, I know, I couldn’t resist 😉
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