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French you don’t learn at school: du coup

Du coup delivers a blow to tradition

While some language basics are an essential tool for anyone moving to France, no amount of poring over verb tables or repetitive grammar exercises will fully prepare you for the everyday language you are likely to encounter once ensconced in French life.

This is the first of our new columns on the words and phrases that you might overhear in daily situations  – perhaps muttered at the bus stop or at the dinner table with neighbours – but which rarely appear in school books or dictionaries.

The enigmatic and almost untranslatable – yet very commonly used – phrase “du coup”, is sprinkled into conversation seemingly at will, often to fill a gap or a pause for breath.

In modern parlance it is often used to express “thus”, “and so”, “as a result” or “ultimately”, but some believe that such is its lack of true significance, that its removal from any sentence would not alter the meaning at all.

Others, such as the linguistic grandees of the Académie Française, see it as a terrible sign of slipping standards in the French language.

Literally speaking, it means “of or from the blow” – the word coup (silent p) famously appears in François Truffaut’s classic New Wave film from 1959, Les 400 Coups (The 400 Blows).

The Académie Française agrees that du coup can be used literally, as in: “Son moteur a explosé et du coup sa voiture a pris feu.” (“His engine exploded and his car caught fire [literally ‘from the blow’]”) which implies a sense of immediacy and consequence.

However, beyond that they disapprove, so our advice is to do your bit by upholding their exacting standards!

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