15 French Words We Cannot Translate Into English Directly
Do you ever stop, unable to think of a word that describes what you are thinking? You know exactly what you mean, but there isn’t an English word for it. If you can relate to this, you may be thinking in another language. There are lots of French words that don’t have an English equivalent, but we can all relate to the meaning of the word.
Here are 15 French words that we can’t directly translate into English.
1. La douleur exquise
If you have ever experienced the pangs of unrequited love, add this word to your dictionary. La douleur exquise describes the heartache of wanting someone who you can’t have.
This word is perfect for travellers; it literally means “to be uncountried”, and it describes the feeling of feeling like a foreigner in a new country.
3. L’ésprit d’escalier
We can all relate to this one; L’esprit d’escalier is the feeling of thinking of the perfect retort for an argument long after the argument has ended.
It roughly translates to “staircase wit” as the French philosopher Diderot (who coined the word) often thought of the perfect retort as he walked down the stairs after a disagreement.
4. Nostalgie de la boue
Nostalgie de la boue describes the feeling of being attracted to depravity and sin, especially if you are middle or high class.
Are you and your best friend on the same wavelength? If so, this word may describe your friendship; S’entendre is a sweet word that describes getting along with someone well because you think in the same way.
6. Chanter en yaourt / yaourter
This word describes someone trying to sing along to a song when they don’t know the words. Often they will replace lyrics with similar sounds and noises, like ‘la la la’ – admit it, you’ve done this before.
Narguer describes mocking someone when you are in a better situation. For instance, narguer would be bragging to your friends that you can have a lay-in when you know that they are all getting up early for work.
This lovely word describes the reunion between old friends who love each other a lot but haven’t seen each other in a long time. ‘Reunion’ isn’t a direct translation, as that describes all reunions and not just the ones between close friends.
This word is perfect for a comedy film; it means a great opportunity that is wasted by unbelievable levels of incompetence and stupidity.
10. L’appel du vide
L’appel du vide translates to “the call of the void”, and it describes the sudden urge to jump when you are stood in a high place.
Paris is a stunning city, and this word encapsulates that. Flâner is the act of slowly strolling through the streets of Paris to enjoy the beauty, mood and architecture.
12. Bricoleur du dimanche
Have you ever improvised a project from scratch? A Bricoleur du dimanche is a person who starts to create something without a clear plan, randomly adding parts and new things.
This funny word is very specific; it literally means to ‘shock the middle class’.
14. A l’ouest
A l’ouest literally translates to mean ‘in the west’, but it isn’t describing a place. It is used to describe someone who is a little strange or quirky, or someone who is deep in thought or daydreaming. The closest English equivalent is ‘on another planet.’
Terroir is a very specific word, most often used by people in the wine and cheese industries. It means the combination of climate, geology, geography and labor of a place that contribute to the cheese and wine that they produce.
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