9 French Words With No English Definitions

November 14, 2013
How Translate French Words With No English Definitions

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For Halloween, an American friend invited me to go to a party with some guys he’d met in the city. I was excited firstly because I had no idea that Halloween was celebrated anywhere other than in the States, and also because I wanted to meet more Parisians. The guys, as it turned out, were not from Paris, or even France, but from Cape Verde.

I knew nothing about the country, which is located off the western coast of Africa, and I was surprised when they started speaking to each other in Portuguese, then Creole, and then Spanish.  I assumed they spoke French because they’re obviously all living in Paris, but honestly only a handful of the group was proficient in the language. The trip from our meeting spot to the actual party was filled with a lot of awkward silences and people asking, “Comment?”  But luckily once we arrived, talking wasn’t exactly necessary.

And to top it all off, there are the phrases that have no English translation at all.

We managed to have a fun time dancing and drinking and enjoying the music without having to say much to one another. But once the party was over, I began thinking about how difficult interactions are made by the language barrier.

In addition to not always grasping basic phrases when you’re not a native speaker, a lot of things are hard to comprehend, like jokes or common phrases. And to top it all off, there are the phrases that have no English translation at all. But with help from friends, dictionaries and sites like Pink Pangea, you won’t be in the dark forever.

To start, here are 9 phrases that don’t quite have English equivalents. Throw them around in everyday conversation, and soon you’ll have trouble convincing people you weren’t raised with baguettes and berets.

9 French Words With No English Definitions

Dépaysement: the feeling that accompanies leaving one’s home, but not quite the same as homesickness

Retrouvailles: the happiness that comes with meeting someone after being apart for a long time

Bricoleur: someone who begins a project without any clear idea of what he or she is doing

Jolie laide: a type of beauty that isn’t conventionally attractive, but is beautiful in its strangeness

Chantepleure: to sing and cry at the same time

Bérézina: an unbelievably large failure, named for the Battle of Berezina in 1812

Ennui: general boredom

Affriolant: sexy, but not vulgar

L’appel du vide: an urge to jump from high places

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Angelyn in Paris


9 French Words With No English Definitions photo by Angelyn Irvin. 

About Angelyn Irvin

Angelyn Irivin is a student at the University of Pennsylvania who studied abroad in Paris in 2013.

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