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What is the first ‘swear’ word every French person learns?

It is commonly said - repeatedly - by young children starting their first years at school

Children usually learn phrases like ‘caca boudin’ in playgrounds Pic: Pressmaster / Shutterstock

French parents of toddlers are fully aware of ‘caca boudin’ syndrome in their household – the period, usually when their offspring are about three, and they start to shout the phrase with glorious abandon, seemingly in response to any question or request. It is effectively their first swear word.

So while the phrase is not something that anyone learning French at school – ie. Anglophones – will learn, it is picked up, rites-of-passage-style, in maternelle (pre-school) by youngsters naturally expanding their vocabulary. 

A Connexion team member with an Anglo-French three-year-old at maternelle can vouch for this phenomenon, having endured said period recently. It soon passes as the child’s vocabulary increases and they learn more ways to express themselves. 

Caca boudin is pretty harmless – caca is French for ‘poo’ and boudin is the blood sausage usually served up with mashed potato and pan-fried apples. 

Essentially, the child is saying ‘poo-poo’, much to their own amusement if not to their parents’.

It is not an offensive term and so the teachers or assistantes maternelles (nursery assistants) might not tell the child off for saying it.

When it comes to reprimands, the French have various verbs. The most common of which is gronder – for example “Il s’est fait gronder par ses parents” (he got told off by his parents). Other verbs to use include engueuler, enguirlander and sermonner.

Like so many French words, gronder has other meanings – it can mean ‘to rumble’ (thunder) or ‘to growl’ (like a dog).

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Tu habites sur Paris? How to use French preposition ‘sur’ correctly

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