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French you don’t learn at school: “bah”?

Erm, when should I utter “bah”?

29 January 2020
By Connexion journalist

Sometimes when mastering the nuances of the French language, an understanding of vocabulary is simply not enough.

This is because certain little expressions or exclamations are so allied to specific emotions (or confusingly, two opposing emotions), and used in specific situations, that you really need to look at the person uttering them in order to understand what they are saying in context – not least because any such utterances are often accompanied by a raised eyebrow or shrugged shoulders.

The best example of this is the oft-used “bah”, a little sound (yes, it sounds like a sheep’s bleat) with big implications.

It is commonly employed as a reinforcing pre-cursor to an expression of incomprehension, and comes at the beginning of a sentence, as in: “Bah, je ne sais pas” (“Well, I don’t know”).

Expressing doubt is another way to employ “bah”.

If someone asks you for directions, for example, you might reply with “Bah, je pense que c’est tout droit” (Erm, I think it’s straight on”).

It can also infer indifference. For example, if asked whether you would like red wine or white, and you really do not mind which you are given, you could reply with “Bah, cela m’est égal” (“Um, well it’s all the same to me”).

However – and here confusion sets in – it can also be used to express full comprehension, and even to imply a little disdain or even feigned incredulity at the stupidity of the question.

For example, in answer to the wine question: “Bah, le vin rouge” (“Duh, the red wine”).

Here, the facial expression or tone of voice is vital in conveying the obviousness of your answer.

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