Bizarre Words and Expressions in French

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September 25, 2015

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Every language has its own share of weird words. French is not exempt from this.

Here, in this article, we listed down words that we think are quite weird due to either:

  •         its funny sound,
  •         the strangeness of the word itself, or
  •         the awesome fact that it even exists at all.

Can you think of even more weird French words? If what you have in mind is not included here, make sure to check the 2nd Part and the 3rd Part of this article series. Feel free to leave a comment, too!

So, let’s get the ball rolling and discover funny French words, shall we?

weird french part

1. borgne: one-eyed person

via GIPHY

Why the French has decided to come up with a single word for a one-eyed person, no one can truly tell. But “borgne” has figured in a couple of French proverbs such as:

  • Au royaume des aveugles les borgnes sont rois.  (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king).

This proverb means something along the lines of “being a sage among fools” or when in a group of inferior people, even the mediocre ones will be the considered the best.

  • Changer son cheval borgne pour un cheval aveugle. (To change a one-eyed horse for a blind one)

What this means is to trade an issue or a problem for something that turns out to be even worse.

Clever sayings, huh?

Borgne is also used in different contexts such as to describe something which has a poor reputation; i.e. hôtel borgne or cabaret borgne which means a shady hotel and a shady bar, respectively.

But French philosopher and writer Jean Jacques Rousseau has an even more peculiar use of the word, when in one of his writings he referred to a “malformed nipple” as téton borgne or something like a one-eyed breast. Now, how weird is that?

2. loisible: an adjective that means having the liberty to do whatever you please.

If you are looking for badass words in French, loisible is for sure one. There is no exact counterpart of this word in the English dictionary, so the English would have long rambling descriptions to describe what this word means. But the bottom line is, being “loisible” is to be allowed to do something whenever you want to do so, or to have the discretion to do something at the time you want to do it. Just like a real badass.

In laymen’s terms, refer to this clip from Youtube star Jenna Marbles.

via GIPHY

3. Meuglé: moo

Notice how the French language seems to make everything sound fancy? It’s the same with this word. Regular English cows “moo”, while the French vache tend to meuglé. And the sound they make is called meuglements.

Meuglé!

Well, meuglé to you, too, Madame Vache!

4. Flâner: to wander or roam around leisurely with no particular destination or purpose in mind.

Somewhat similar to strolling or roaming around but with no exact purpose other than to idly loiter or pass the time; flâner is another word that has no exact connotation in English.

It is related to ‘flâneur’, a much-discussed (and debated, even) term which grew into popularity in 16th and 17th century France and refers to any individual who likes to stroll or saunter around town. There are plenty of interpretations about what a flâneur truly is – whether he is a mindless wanderer or an intelligent urban spectator. Either way, flâner (and flâneur) is quite an interesting idea.

5. Yaourter: literally “to yoghurt”. The expression “chanter en yaourt” means to make up words when singing.

You’re probably guilty of this, or know someone who’s notorious for making up words while singing. Well guess what, the French have a word for it, and it’s called “to yoghurt”.

Here’s a fine example of Chris Pratt doing just that (but with aplomb!) while singing the song Uptown Funk:

Yaourter

6. Hurluberlu: an eccentric person or a weirdo.

Though it sounds similar to the English word hurlyburly which means turmoil or uproar, the meaning is quite different.  In French, a crackpot or an oddball can be referred to as “hurluberlu”. Don’t you just love how weirdly the word rolls in your tongue and makes you want to say it over and over? That’s the magic of this weirdo word.

7. Chauve-souris: bald mouse, literally but means, a bat.

Leave it to the French to come up with fascinating names for animals. Though one might argue that bats aren’t necessarily bald.. nor a type of rat for that matter.. or even remotely related to rats, there’s nothing much you can do about it.  

na-na-na-na-na-na- l’homme chauve-souris!

Just kidding. It’s still le batman.

8. abracadabrantesque: lacking credibility, unbelievable

Everyone knows about the magical word ‘abracadabra’, of course, as well as its many permutations (like JK Rowling’s avada kedavra spell, anyone?). But the French have an even more fun, sounds-totally-made-up word for it. Abracadabrantesque. Because why say ‘ludicrous’ when there’s a more outrageously fun way to say it, eh?

9. raplapla: deflated; worn out

Here’s another French word that makes fun twists and turns as it rolls off of your tongue. And that quirky weird wide-mouthed sound it makes? Ha! What fun! But saying this word to describe how deflated you are just might wear you off further. Try it! Ready? Say RA-PLA-PLA!

10. Monsieur Untel/ Madame Unetelle:  Mr. So-and-so and Ms. So-and-so.

Similar to the English terms "what's-his-name" or "what's-her-name" or Mr. So-and-so and Ms. So-and-so.

Different languages and cultures have a name for someone unknown, like probably Jane Doe or John Doe in English. You could say that Monsieur Untel and Madame Unetelle is something like that. Except, of course, for the fact the the Untels had to follow correct French gender usage. Thus, the “un” and “une” and the changes in suffix. Couldn’t say the same for the straightforward  Mr. and Mrs. Doe!

Want more weird, fun, crazy, or badass words in French? Check out the part 2 and part 3 of this article! We have 20 more weird but fun French words for you. Make sure you never miss any upcoming articles by subscribing to the weekly newsletter. You’ll also get a FREE French learning package when you do!

Here are some FAQs about French Weird Words

Why is French spelling so weird?

French has some unusually spelled words, and this in part due to silent letters. The silent letters (les lettres muettes) were once pronounced in Old French. As the language evolved, the pronunciation was abandoned, but the modern words are still spelled the same.

What are some cool French words?

Learning cool French words is a refreshing activity after studying the important, yet boring vocabulary. Invigorate your French learning with a few here:

  • La grasse matinée literally means “the fat morning.” However, this just refers to a lazy start of the day. No alarms, no rush, just a leisurely morning spent sleeping in. In a sentence, you can use “j’ai fait la grasse matinée” to say you slept in.
  • Mince literally translates to “thin.” In slang, however, this can express mild frustration and annoyance, and can be said in most situations.
  • Abracadabrantesque is a prime example of the crazy words the French can invent. It means “ludicrous” or “lacking in credibility,” but it just sounds better; more magical. Abracadabrant is similar, but simply means “bizarre!”

What is the hardest French word?

If we want to talk about difficult to pronounce words, there are many! For example, la bouilloire is a kettle, and is pronounced /bujwaʀ/. There are three distinct sounds, from the French U, the two L’s, and the French R. Another is l’écureuil (masc.), pronounced /ekyʀœj/ and means squirrel in English. This has é, -cu– which needs the French U, the French R, and –euil. Take your time practicing pronunciation

There is a variety of advanced French vocabulary out there as well. Be sure to check out our archives for harder words!

About the author 

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Instagram

  • Hey Frederic
    Borgne reminded me of Cyclops, the one-eyed monster from mythology: and then the idea of the Cyborgs- I believe it was Star Trek, stand corrected though-however, Cyclops when used in English refers to one-sidedness, a person with a one-sided perspective. It seems to me that there’s an overlapping meaning in French too, or maybe I’m just stretching my imagination!

    regards
    Desiree

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