As an expat in Paris, I have no idea how to curse in French. As someone who appreciates the power of a well-placed F-bomb, I find this very frustrating. Can you help?
I relate so much to this because it’s essential to know how to fight back with words if you’re going to be really comfortable in a country, especially France. I’m lucky that with all the swearing in American movies, I can casually drop a “fuck” in the middle of a story—even if my Anglophone friends still laugh about it. Of course it’s my accent. It’s always the accent.
So you don’t know how to curse? In French, cursing is an art. Even more, it’s an attitude. You have to say something that leaves you on the high ground while your adversary is left bewildered in the gutter. Let’s do this!
“Fuck” is putain which, translated literally, means hooker. It’s a very casual word. When my youngest was a year- old, he dropped his bottle and said putain (just like mama). So I stopped saying it… at least, in front of him. It comes back when the sun is down and the booze is out. Nothing’s more French than putain. Putain, ça fait chier means Fuck, that sucks. Literal translation: Fuck, it makes me defecate.
“Shit” is merde and we say it a lot. A lot.
“Fuck you” is Va te faire foutre. It literally means, Go get screwed. Foutre is the word for semen.
“Son of a bitch” is fils de pute and you hear it in movies all the time. But you should never, NEVER use that one. Never.
“Asshole/Bitch/Whore” is salaud/salop (masculine) and salope (feminine). Though they’re pronounced the same, salaud means a guy who’s an asshole while salop is a male whore. Salope covers bitch and whore.
“Motherfucker” (one of my English favorites) is enculé. Use it sparingly because enculer means anal sex. I’m not a big fan of this (the word, not the sex), but you need to know it and try not to use it. Please.
“Bastard/Asshole” is enfoiré. Don’t translate bastard with bâtard, which is the kid whose mother had sex with someone other than her husband—and he’s the result. Strangely, enfoiré is totally cool.
Always remember, you never insult the mother. Fils de whatever is NOT OK.
Quel(le) con/conne: What an idiot, a dummy, a moron
Quel(le) connard/connasse: What a cunt (I wouldn’t be caught dead saying “cunt” in English but in French, connasse is one of my favorite insults.)
Putain, quel(le) con/conne: Fuck, what a moron
Putain, ç’est pas possible d’etre aussi con/conne: For fuck’s sake, it’s not possible to be that stupid
Keep these in your back pocket and practice on a boulanger. They’re usually very conne and don’t like strangers, so they’re an easy mark.
To your concierge who accepted the 10kg Amazon package instead of letting the deliveryman bring it to your 5th-floor-without-a-lift apartment: Putain, ç’est pas possible, merde!
To the PTA mother who forces you to do booth duty during the annual school fair: Je me suis un peu emmerdée.
(I was a little bit bored. Literally, I was submerged in shit.)
To the neighbor who complains about your stroller, scooter, shopping cart and other kid stuff stored at the bottom of your building staircase: Je m’en fous/ J’en ai rien à cirer, je paye mon loyer.
(I don’t give a shit, I pay my rent.)
To the mean girls: Putain mais ç’est pas possible d’etre aussi connes, si seulement vous étiez aussi jolies que mauvaises, vous pourriez vous en sortir mais là, ç’est juste pathétique.
(Fuck, it’s not possible to be so dumb. If only you were as pretty as you are nasty, you could do something about it, but this is just pathetic.) Learn this by heart. It’s vulgar enough to show you handle French and disdainful enough to make them feel very small.
To the creepy guy at the bar: Dégage, tu me saoules.
(Piss off, you’re annoying me.)
If you swear, whatever the language, remember you have to own the consequences, so do it carefully! And make sure your girls have got your back.
Image by 2il org