More polite ways to swear in French

The acceptable way to 'Mind your French' in polite society...

In French like in English, more polite ways of swearing have developed over the years. Here, we have picked a few more publicly acceptable expressions to swear in French.

Instead of saying the commonly-used and not-for-polite-company putain (which literally means prostitute and covers an impressive range of reactions from surprise, shock and disappointment to awe and joy), you could say punaise (literally a flea), purée (mash), or pétard (a firecracker).

Children but also adults love to replace another common and well-known swear-word - merde - with mercredi (Wednesday), mince or zut.

Instead of saying bordel (lit: brothel), you may hear bazar – which means much the same but is less vulgar. Be careful you can say 'quel bazar!' but you cannot use bazar alone as an exclamation. You may also say 'c'est le bazar'.

To insult someone, children may use ‘face de pet’ (fartface) but you can also say ‘pourriture’ - which means rotten.

If you want to replace ‘con’ (dumb), perhaps consider saying idiot, andouille, or benêt which refers to someone a bit naive and stupid.

To insult a woman, there is an old expression ‘grognasse’, which originally meant someone old, ugly and bad-tempered.

Instead of describing a sycophant as a lèche-cul (literally someone who licks ass), you could say lèche-bottes (someone who licks boots). 

Meanwhile, ferme ta bouche (literally close your mouth) is more polite than ferme ta gueule if someone annoys you. ‘Gueule’ refers the mouth of an animal. The most neutral thing to say is ‘tais-toi’.

‘Va au Diable’ (go to hell) is self-explanatory as a way to tell someone to go away. Va-t’en is more polite than ‘casse-toi’, ‘barre-toi’, or ‘dégage’.

If you do not believe in someone’s story you can say ‘mon oeil!’ (my eye) instead of ‘mon cul!’. Children tend to use ‘mon oeil!’ a lot.

When someone is annoying you, you can say ‘il me casse les pieds’ or ‘il me casse les bonbons’ instead of the well-known expression referring to men's private parts (casser les couilles).

Speaking of couilles, you can avoid saying je m’en bats les couilles (meaning I don’t care) by using several expressions such as ‘j’en ai rien à cirer’ (literally I have nothing to polish). This expression comes from the 15th century when sailors had to polish the ship deck. They used to say that they had nothing to polish when they finished.

Je m’en tamponne le coquillard’ is another way to say ‘I don’t care’ – coquillard refers to coquille (shell), and also has female sexual undertones. Sometimes coquillard is not used and you may only hear ‘je m’en tamponne’. 

In the same way, if you are not interested in something someone is telling you, you can say ‘ça me fait une belle jambe’ (literally meaning it makes my leg look good). This expression comes from the 17th century when men used to wear tights but the tradition became unpopular two centuries later and men used to say ‘this will not make my leg look better’. It has now changed to the ironical expression ‘ça me fait une belle jambe’.

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