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Why it’s risqué but never passé to use a double entendre in France

Just because we use the French word in English, it may not have the same meaning in French 

Some French terms that we use in English will draw blank stares in France Pic: Yakobchuk Viachevslav//Shutterstock

Some French words and phrases are used quite ‘wrongly’ in English which has adopted them because they sound flowery, sophisticated or clever but completely changed their meaning. 

So if you try a “reverse ferret” and attempt a  literal translation of the English usage in French you are likely to be met with blank incomprehension or laughter.

Here are some of the French words you might not  know we were using in the wrong way. 



In English, we use touché when having a debate and someone else makes a good point against your argument. It is almost like saying “fair enough”. 

However, this is not how the French use touché

In French, touché has lots of meanings, but not this one. 

For example, the verb toucher can mean to touch - physically or emotionally - or to receive money; j’ai touché mon salaire hier.  

It is often used figuratively; if someone says ça m’a touché it means they feel moved by something. 

Un touché in French is a touchdown, and is also used in fencing when the person gets hit or when playing battleships and your boat is hit - touché ! 



In English, we use risqué to describe something we deem as either sexually revealing or suggestive, for example someone might say an outfit is a bit risqué

However in French, risqué literally means risky, and suggests there is something hazardous or dangerous. 



When talking about something outdated in English, we might describe it as passé

However in French, passé is the past participle of passer, which means to pass or to happen. 

For example, if you said qu’est-ce qui s’est passé ? it means 'what happened?'

Meanwhile, le passé means the past, but it does not refer to things being outdated. 

Read also: Do you know the English equivalents of these five French expressions? 



A portemanteau in English refers to two words put together to make a new word - for example Brexit is a portemanteau word formed by combining Britain and exit. 

Meanwhile, in French a portemanteau is a coat rack or hat stand. 



Valet is used in English to describe someone who parks your car for you when you attend an event or at a fancy hotel.

However, in French valet actually refers to a male servant.   

It is also the French equivalent of Jack in a pack of cards - King, Queen, Jack become Roi, Dame, Valet.



A corsage to English speakers refers to a flower tied around your wrist or attached to your dress when you are attending a wedding or a fancy event. 

Meanwhile in French un corsage is a piece of clothing - either a blouse or the bodice of a dress. 


Double entendre 

In English we use double entendre when a word or phrase has two meanings, and often one meaning is a bit risqué (in the English sense of the word!) 

Meanwhile in French, the equivalent would be une expression à double sens, while double entendre is not used as an expression in France. 



When a room has an ensuite in English it means it has an adjoining bathroom. 

However, in French ensuite literally means next, or following on. 


Related articles 

10 words used in Quebec that mean something very different in France 

Français, français: When do you cap up the F? 

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