Yes, you must even learn these when you are in France. Nothing’s more embarrassing than repeating something that you’ve often heard in French, thinking it’s no more than a harmless interjection…. only to learn (regretfully late) that you’re actually turning the air blue with vulgarities.
I once knew an American lawyer who said that she repeatedly used “je m’en fous” in client meetings for years, thinking she was saying: “I don’t care.” Somehow no one told her until much later that she was actually saying: “I don’t give a f***.”
French swear words are called “gros mots” – big words – and they’re sometimes a tricky thing to master. Sometimes these words are perfectly acceptable. But when said in a certain way or context, they are extremely harsh, disrespectful and rude.
Before throwing out any gros mots, foreigners should be sure of what they’re saying and how it’ll come across. When swearing in another language, it can be difficult to judge the intensity of your words or how they’ll be taken. So use with caution, if at all.
These are the ones that are said in times of frustration or anger. Definitely not for use in any kind of professional or formal setting.
Putain! Literally this means whore but it’s the equivalent of “fuck!”
Merde! Translates as “shit!” It’s probably the most commonly used curse word in French.
Mince! Roughly the equivalent of “damn!” It’s milder than the two exclamations above, but still be cautious using it in polite company.
Zut! Means “darn!” or “heck!” – This is not a gros mot and is acceptable in general society.
Punaise! This means “bed bug.” It’s an acceptable way to avoid saying “putain.”
Con/conne/connard! This word can have a variety of meanings and intent, depending on context. It’s generally a very vulgar word meaning ‘”asshole” or a part of the female anatomy, but can also mean “jerk” or “idiot.” However, if you say: “C’est con…” It means: “It’s dumb” and it’s generally acceptable. When in doubt, however, avoid using the word “con” as you might seem ill-mannered.
Salope! This translates as “bitch” with the same vulgarity level.
Trou de cul. This means hole of the ass, which, of course, means asshole.
Fils de pute – Translates as son of whore!” As you might suspect, this has no neutral or polite interpretation.
Je m’en fous – This is the equivalent of “I don’t give a fuck!” A less crude way of saying this would be “Je m’en fiche.” (I don’t care) or “Ça m’est egal” (It’s all the same to me).
Ça me fait chier – A polite interpretation is “that annoys me.” A more common interpretation is “that pisses me off!” If you want to be on the safe side, better to say: “Ça m’énerve.” Or “Tu m’énerve” (That gets on my nerves).
Casse-toi – It’s generally understood to mean “Fuck off!” or “Piss off!” It’s even worse if you combine it with another insult. You may remember that a number years ago, former President Sarkozy got into hot water by saying “Casse-toi pauvre con” to a constituent who had refused to shake his hand.
Ta gueule – A very rude way of saying shut up. It’s like saying: “Shut your trap/hole!”
C’est chiant – “That’s shitty.” It’s sometimes interpreted as “that’s annoying” but in a formal setting, assume that your listener will hear it as shitty. To be on the safe side, say: “c’est enervant” or “c’est irritant.”
Have you had any situations where you used a “gros mot” without realizing it? Share below in the comments!