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Comme ils sont beaux, les mots…

Bethany Untied Auchettl, 18/10/2011,

I’m a linguist by trade, so you’ll excuse me if I’m completely head-over-heels obsessed with words. I love word games- crosswords and cryptoquotes and word jumbles, oh my ! If you’ve heard me speak in English, you’ve doubtless heard me invent a new word or two or purposefully mispronounce something for humorous purposes- I just love me some words !

But French…ah what a language !  French is chock-full of so many scrumptious words- words that you just want to roll around on your tongue. Words that pour from your lips like golden molasses. Words that are so beautiful that it takes your breath away just to hear them. Words that are charming in their utilitarianness (see, a word I just made up !). The French language just has that…je ne sais quoi. Would you expect anything less from the country whose joie de vivre is so utterly infectious ?

Alors, this article is dedicated to the almighty word. I’ve been collecting these morceaux for months now, and I’ve finally organized them into categories for your reading enjoyment…

Beautiful/poetic words :

  • Chèvrefeuille (honeysuckle) although this word looks like goatleaf, it actually is thought to derive from the Latin word caprifolium, which, when I researched it, means goatleaf.

Bethany Untied Auchettl, 18/10/2011

  • Potpourri (potpourri) literally means rotten pot. I find this interesting considering how lovely it smells !
  • Arcen-ciel (rainbow) translates to ‘arch in the sky’. And what a lovely arch it is !

Bethany Untied Auchettl, 18/10/2011

  • Avoir le gueule de bois (to have a hangover) I include this term here because of its inherent poetic beauty – only the French would call a spade such an interesting spade. Literally it means to have a wooden face/jaw. Which, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of being hungover, is pretty apt.
  • Époustouflant (mind-boggling) a mindbogglingly beautiful word, IMO.
  • Chauvesouris (bat) these animals give me the creeps, but my French students always get a kick out of the bald-mice around Halloween.
  • Bellefille/beau-frère (sister-in-law or step brother) I have always been amused by the French term for in-laws and step-family. Mostly because in America, both of these terms seem to carry a somewhat negative connotation. In French, the beauty is built right into the word ! Or perhaps that’s the irony of it…
  • Cerfvolant (kite) the origin of this term is not proven, but the French are fairly certain that it did not initially mean Flying Deer. In fact, some think it is from serpent originally- and to me this makes more sense. Kites more closely resemble snakes than stags. Regardless, I always loved this word because I picture a child flying a big deer complete with gigantic antlers on a beautiful, picturesque day. And it makes me giggle.

Loooong words :

  • Anticonstitutionnellement (in a way that is contrary to the Constitution) the longest word in French, to hear it pronounced click here.
  • Prestidigitateur (magician) this is my all-time favorite word in French. I just love it. I couldn’t rightly have a list of cool French words without it !

Obvious usage words :

  • Porte-monaie (wallet) carry-money. All the porte– compound words are so deliciously utilitarian.
  • Soutien-gorge (brassiere) support-neck. It’s not really the neck that it’s supporting, but I find this one charming of its own accord !
  • Doigts-de-pieds (toes) fingers-of-feet. Go finger…oops, I mean figure !
  • Voilà (there is, here you go, etc.) people use this term all the time, but I love that it literally means seethere !
  • Parapluie (umbrella) I always thought this word meant ‘for rain’ because para means ‘for’ in Spanish, but upon researching I’ve discovered that para is a Greek prefix meaning beside or at the side of (e.g. paranormal). Moreover, this word just rolls off your tongue, not at all like the cumbersome, almost guttural ‘umbrella’.

Words that are fun to say :

          These are just some amazing words to pronounce. Go on, have at it !

  • Gingembre (ginger)
  • Pamplemousse (grapefruit)
  • Libellule (dragonfly)

Bethany Untied Auchettl, 18/10/2011

  • Concombre (cucumber)
  • Caoutchouc (rubber) (I learned this word from watching the amazing film Indochine.)
  • Agrafeuse (stapler)
  • Soupçon (suspicion, hint)
  • Un taxi attaque six taxis (one taxi attacks six taxis) I would be remiss if I didn’t include a vire-langue in this list, and this one is my favorite ! (When said, it should sound like un taxi ah-taxi taxi.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed my small collection of cool French words. Please, feel free to add your own to the list.

What words do you just absolutely adore for some reason or another ?



Join the conversation

7 Comments




  1. Judy MacMahon
    8 years ago

    Bethany congratulations! you are certainly a ‘Prestidigitateur’ with french words! Thank you Judy


  2. Sab Will
    8 years ago

    Hi Bethany, that is a beautiful article. Arc-en-ciel is probably one of my favourites. If you want hard to pronounce, you should try ‘serrurerie’, I’ve never been able to manage it.
    I too love funny word happenings, look:

    http://snail.hotchpotchenglish.com/

    Have fun, ;~Sab


  3. Laura Griffin
    8 years ago

    My favourite is ‘parapluie’ especially when Bob says it!


  4. Emmanuelle Tremolet
    8 years ago

    I didn’t realise that we have so “special” french word! I use them everyday but today when I say them I laugh ! Thank you Bethany.


  5. Emmanuelle Tremolet
    8 years ago

    J’en ai trouvé d’autres : le gratte-ciel, l’ouvre-boite, le tire-bouchon.


  6. Bethany Untied
    8 years ago

    Merci Judy ! 🙂

    Sab- je n’arrive pas a prononcer serrurerie ! 😛

    Emmanuelle- je blague pas- ces trois mots étaient dans la version originale ! Il me fallait supprimer plusieurs exemples pour que l’article soit assez court ! Great minds think alike ! 🙂


  7. edurne19
    7 years ago

    I don’t know why, but I like a lot the word “sortilège” (magic spell, sort, enchantment).
    Regarding funny french words, I would add “tintinnabuler”, “boui-boui”, “ratiboiser”, “méli-mélo”, “bric-à-brac”, “de bric et de broc”, “fanfreluches”, “escopette”, “potron-minet” and “presse-purée”- well, there are plenty other ones but I can’t recall them all.
    And I’ve got another virelangue for you : si six scies scient six cyprès, six cents scies scient six cents cyprès ! Good luck with this one !
    And finally, a great creative insult : Résidu de fausse couche d’iguane vérolé !!
    As a matter of fact, I’m collecting funny old colloquialisms from the countryside (my parents seem to know an endless collection of them)and here one of them :
    Aller regarder les feuilles à l’envers (go watching the leaves from beneath): aller tirer un coup (faire l’amour) dans les bois.
    If you want more of them, let me know.