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‘Faire le mariole’ - how to describe an attention-seeker in French

Acting the goat or being a smart Alec, we explore the French phrase to describe the class clown

The phrase 'faire le mariole' means to make a show of oneself, usually in a foolish manner Pic: michaeljung

The phrase faire le mariole means to make a show of oneself, usually in a foolish manner. However, it is sometimes also translated as being a ‘smart alec’.

Here, we explain the various potential origins of the phrase.

The most common explanation relates to Dominique Gay Mariole, a soldier of Napoleon’s imperial guard who was nicknamed l’Indomptable (the indomitable one) due to his large stature.

He also had the reputation of being a prankster.

For example, it is said that, at the moment of presenting arms, Mariole held a cannon on his shoulder rather than a rifle.

This supposedly inspired the expression and gave it the meaning of making a show of oneself.

Other sources claim that the expression originates from the Italian word mariolo, which translates to ‘rascal’ or ‘rogue’.

Apparently, the word entered the French language around the sixteenth century and the expression evolved from there. 

Alternatively, some argue that the expression was actually inspired by the Virgin Mary, or more precisely small images of her called marioles which were popular in the 13th century.

It is said that the term was at the time used to refer to people who tried to give the impression that they were more pious than they really were and evolved over time to describe any sort of attention-seeking behaviour.

Another explanation is that the word mariole derives from marionette or puppet.

Puppet shows often feature dramatic storylines and exaggerated characters’ which would explain why faire le mariole would imply making a fool of oneself.

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