I got this from The Local. I thought I’d share. The pic above is mine, as always.
- “L’ésprit d’escalier” – Ever had an argument and come up with the perfect witty comeback just a few hours too late? Then this expression is for you. L’esprit d’escalier is the feeling of finding the perfect retort too late, but literally translated it means, “staircase wit.” 18th century French philosopher Diderot coined the phrase because he found that it was only by walking away from the argument, literally down the stairs, that he could he think of a suitable riposte.
- “La douleur exquise” – Only the French could come up with such an eloquent expression for the pain of unrequited love. La douleur exquise, “the exquisite pain” perfectly describes the heartache of wanting someone you can’t have. It was even used as the title for a Sex and the City episode!
- Flâner – The most Parisian of all French words; “flâner” was defined in the 19th century by the literary crowd of Paris as the art of leisurely strolling the streets of Paris, without any particular goal or destination, simply for the pleasure of soaking up the beauty of the city. These aimless Paris pedestrians are also known as “flâneurs.” (I think I’m a flâneur myself. – Bon)
- “L’appel du vide” – Literally translated this means “the call of the void,” but it’s a term used to describe the sudden inexplicable impulse to jump when in a high place or standing on a high ledge.
- “Cartonner” – A great word for talking about films, books and bands that have been huge hits, it has a literal meaning of wrapping something in cardboard, but as a slang term “cartonner” is used to mean something that has had huge success, “le film cartonne aux états-unis.”
- “Ras-le-bol” – Impossible to translate literally in English, “ras-le-bol” is perhaps one of the oddest French phrases. Used to express annoyance or frustration, the best English equivalents of “j’en ai ras le bol de…” are “I’ve had it up to here with…” or “I’m sick of/I’ve had enough of…” Equally, it can be used to describe a feeling of despair which perhaps explains why it’s been cropping up a lot in the French press in relation to increased taxes: “ras-le-bol fiscal.” (This term is a fave of mine, and I use it quite often. – Bon)
- “Dépaysement” – This one often crops up in lists of the world’s best untranslatable words. It describes the feeling of disorientation and bewilderment one might feel upon being in a totally foreign environment, for example, how a European might feel in the middle of Japan. It doesn’t only apply to physically moving either, it could also be to used to describe a change of mental state or feelings as a result of any major life event.
- “Retrouvailles” – A particularly sweet French word that encapsulates the feeling of happiness on meeting someone again that you haven’t seen for a very long time.
- “Chanter en yaourt / yaourter” – Literally “to yoghurt,” this expression is used for someone trying to sing in a foreign language and getting the words wrong or filling in the words with tra-la-la sounds and the like. Nice to know that when we sang “soggy semolina” for “sonnez les matines” during Frères Jacques at school, the French had the perfect word for us!
- A l’ouest – If you translate this literally it means “in the west” but no, it’s not a phrase you’ll hear on a TV weather forecast. “A l’ouest” is usually reserved for describing someone a little strange or different, or who thinks outside of the box. It might also be used to describe someone daydreaming. Perhaps the nearest English expression would be “on another planet.”