French language notes: How to be insulting

... but with a literary flourish!

26 February 2020
By Connexion journalist

Far be it for Connexion to cast aspersions on our host countrymen and women but some people might have you believe that the French love to moan.

With the ongoing strikes and recent stormy weather, you might agree they have good reason to be miffed.

However, the ways in which the French express their frustration often seems limited. Barely a day goes by without hearing someone utter “ça me fait chier” (That really p*sses me off/does my head in).

One widely known but very old-fashioned term for someone who annoys you is un Jean-Foutre! (an elegant equivalent to the modern ‘a**hole’ or a good-for-nothing).

For those of you who seek to up the ante in the complaining stakes, here are some even more erudiate or literary words of grumble or put-down to expand your vocabulary. They are however rarely used in everyday French so don’t be surprised if you get a puzzled look as even many French people may not know them!

Firstly, do you want to imply that someone is naive and idle of thought? Dismiss their comments as une calinotade – an elegantly old-fashioned term meaning silliness. Similarly, if you want to infer that someone is but a mere conformist sheep following the rules or blindly copying others, a fine word to put them in their place is idémiste (from the Latin idem for ‘the same’).

A deeply personal insult to employ with care is cacostomie. Stemming from the Greek kakos (bad), and stoma (mouth) it refers to bad breath. And for the ultimate emasculating put-down of a man, there is the magnificent cryptogame – in botany, that which is characterized by hidden or not very apparent reproductive organs.

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