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Ça me gonfle!: How to express your irritation (or love) in French

It is no secret that the French love using slang in everyday conversations. We look at one multi-purpose verb that helps them to express irritation, exaggeration and even love

When you about to explode with fury, gonfler might be the correct word to describe your feeling Pic: WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock

When you hear a French person express how annoyed, irritated, wound up or generally narked by something they are – and let’s face it, as anyone who lives here will testify, this is not uncommon! – listen out for the phrases “cela m’énerve” or “ça m’agace”. 

However, there is also the more slangy – and far more satisfying – phrase to utter: “ça me gonfle!”, which translates into English as the more familiar “This is really getting on my wick”, when expressing exasperation.

Gonfler in the straight sense means “to inflate” (as in a balloon or tyre) but the implication behind “ça me gonfle” is that someone (or an annoyingly difficult task or social situation) is literally filling you up with so much air that you might explode with fury. [Please note that a more vulgar interpretation of the phrase’s origin refers to testicles expanding!].  

Similar to “ça me gonfle” is “ça me soûle” (literally meaning “this is making me drunk”). It is written as saoule by the more literary-minded.

Gonflé as an adjective also has alternative meanings to be aware of. Originally it was used to describe someone courageous, but over time it has evolved into something less admirable: to convey audacity or bare-faced cheek. 

It can also mean ‘to exaggerate’ – one might “gonfler son CV” (inflate one’s CV), for instance, or “gonfler les statistiques” (massage the figures).

There is, though, also a much sweeter connotation that you can use – and this is one for the romantics: ‘Mon cœur se gonfle en pensant à toi”. “My heart swells whenever I think about you”.

Related stories:

Seven ways to say ‘I’m tired’ in French and their unusual origins

Être aux anges and more French ‘happy’ expressions

Chépa, Chui: Six French ‘slurred’ words you may find hard to recognise

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