French language from a book

10 French Phrases that There’s No English Equivalent For

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France is famous for its fabulous food, amazing artists, memorable monuments and much, much more. It’s also given the world the gift of the most romantic and arguably most nuanced language on earth: French. Here are 10 words and phrases with no English equivalents.

1) Dépaysement

The first word that doesn’t have a direct English translation, refers to a type of disorientation. More specifically, it means “the unsteady sensation of being in another country.” If you’re travelling to France, you might even experience dépaysement for yourself for the first few days. It also refers to a change of mental state or feelings as the result of some major life change.

2) Chez

This is a classic French word that you might not have heard before, but is indeed a versatile and useful word. Chez can mean that you are at a particular location (chez moi), or refers to a particular state of mind of someone or a collection of people (chez les français — “among the French”). Yet still, you could use it to describe an artist’s body of work (chez Matisse).

3) La douleur exquise

The literal translation of la douleur exquise means “the exquisite pain”, or the heart-wrenching pain of wanting something or someone you can’t have. This truly is a French phrase through and through. This phrase is so powerful, even a Sex and the City episode references the name in one of their episode titles!

4) Terroir

It wouldn’t be French without a hefty wine vocabulary. Although often used in the international wine and cheese industries, terroir is a notoriously tricky word to translate for the average english speaker. Terroir refers to the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate, as well as the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by that environment.

5) Ras-le-bol

As one of the oddest French phrases, this is impossible to translate literally in English. Used when expressing frustration, the most similar English equivalent would be something such as “I’ve had enough of…” or “I’ve had it up to here…” It can also be used to refer to the feeling of despair. It has recently been seen in the French media, in relation to new tax legislation, “ras-le-bol fiscal.”

6) L’ouest

Literally translated in English, this phrase means “in the west”. But actually, a l’ouest is normally used to describe someone that comes off as strange or different, or that perhaps thinks outside of the box. Additionally, you can use it to call someone a daydreamer. A more correct way to put it in English, would be to say a person is “on another planet”.

7) Empêchement

Describing something as an “impediment”, empêchement refers to the things that come up last minute that cause a change in your plans. Traveling to France, you may experience an empêchement if you’re not fully prepared – make sure to plan appropriately so you don’t experience it!

8) Cartonner

Use this word when describing a film, book or band that has been a huge hit. Cartonner is a verb meaning that something has hit a target, or been an overall success. This word is usually used to call out films that have moved a lot of tickets at the box office, books that have sold well or bands that have had a hit single.

9) Esprit de l’escalier

This French term is used in English for the predicament of thinking of the perfect reply too late. Known also as “staircase wit”, this term describes a witty remark that occurs to you retroactively, such as on the way downstairs after leaving a conversation.

10) Cache-misère

If you’re trying to conceal something unpleasant, use cache-misère to describe it. As a temporary fix to a messy situation, cache-misère might refer to a situation such as sweeping a mess under the rug.

Regardless of where you’re traveling to in France, you will see world-renowned monuments, famous pieces of art and eat delectable food. You may even come across one or two of these words while you’re there as well, and now you won’t be caught off guard. Have fun on your trip to France, bon voyage!

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