French is one of the world’s most studied languages and is known for being romantic-sounding and loaded with silent letters. French evolved from the dialects of Northern Gaul and once the region was conquered by the Romans, Latin was peppered in. Thanks to this, French has Latin, Germanic and Celtic roots making for a unique language that’s one of a kind. Because of this, there are a few phrases in French that are without an English equivalent. Whether you’re looking to brush up on your French or impress a friend, here are seven French phrases with no English translation.
French Phrases With No Translation
1. L’espirit D’escalier
Don’t you hate the times when you think of a perfect comeback but the moment has already come and gone? In French, they have a saying for that. It goes “l’espirit d’escalier” or “staircase wit.” The phrase was made popular by an 18th-century philosopher, Diderot. He was always thinking of clever retorts after he’d walked away from the argument and was literally heading down the stairs.
2. La Douleur Exquise
It’s no secret that the French are seriously romantic. The phrase “La douleur exquise” only cements that fact. Directly translated it means “exquisite pain” and refers to the loss and heartbreak that one feels from unrequited love and what could have been.
We’ve all been there, stumbling over the words, trying desperately to communicate with someone in another language but instead we just butcher the whole thing. In French, they call that “Yaourt” or “yoghurt.” A slang verb for speaking really poorly in another language.
Running late and have no excuse other than you simply didn’t leave on time? This is a perfect scenario for the phrase “empêchement.” It just means you ran into an unexpected change of plans and don’t have time to explain. It also sounds much better than admitting you missed your alarm.
5. Jolie Laide
Directly translated, “jolie laide” means “pretty ugly.” However, this is far from its conversational meaning. The term refers to someone who has a unique and strange beauty that evokes a strong feeling.
6. L’appel Du Vide
L’appel du vide, or “the call of the void” is the strange and unexplainable urge to do something extremely dangerous. Diving off a cliff, swerving into traffic, jumping off a ship are all desires that some get when experiences “l’appel du vide.” It’s morbid and a bit bleak, yes, but it turns out there’s actually some science behind this feeling. It’s called the “high place phenomenon.”
Have you ever been around someone that you know in your gut is a pretender? Something about them just seems fake and inauthentic? In French, they’d call that person a “crapoter.” Funny as it sounds, the term comes from someone who pretends to inhale the smoke on a cigarette.