Just learning French at all is an accomplishment, so felicitations to you! But as long as you’re saying, “une boum” instead of “une soirée,” your amis français will be listening to your 1980’s vocab instead of your excellent accent. To help you reach that fluent-speaker level, we’re making lists of words French people actually use. Review February, March, and April’s words, then dive into this one. We invite you to leave your thoughts and questions below in the comments section.
1. A quoi ça sert?
Quintessentially French-existentialist, “A quoi ça sert?” means “what’s the point?” It’s mostly redundant and said with the assumption that there is, in fact, no point. So before going into the boring daily work meeting, say “à quoi ça sert?” to your coworker. He’ll tell you “ça sert à rien.” (There’s no point.)
A fantastic appropriated-from-English adjective, “cow-boy” (make sure to say it a French accent) means going against the rules, acting a bit rogue. Deadpool from the movie Deadpool is “un super-héros cow-boy.” Alternatively, in the same vein of The Big Lebowski’s “This is not ‘Nam, this is bowling, there are rules,” you can tell someone who is not following the rules, “fais pas ton cow-boy” or “joue pas ton cow-boy.”
“Bim” is “boom.” Any time you would triumphantly say, “boom!” you can say “bim!” You can also say “bim dans ta face” (which, yes, translates to “boom, in your face”).
4. Ça arrive, même aux meilleurs
This is the equivalent of “it happens to the best of us.” It’s the thing you say to protect your ego or someone else’s. When your overly-confident friend loses a game of ping-pong, he may announce, “ça arrive, même aux meilleurs.”
Very simple, this noun means “guy.” It works for saying “guy” in the way that anyone casually would, or in an accusatory way, like “il y a un mec qui a volé mon sandwich dans le frigo du bureau” (some guy stole my sandwich from the office fridge). Or, “c’est qui ce mec?” (Who is this guy? / Who does this guy think he is?).
6. S’écouter parler
Literally translating to “to hear oneself speak,” this is the equivalent of someone liking the sound of their own voice. When some guy goes on and on explaining why vaccines are bad, you can turn to your friend and say, “il s’écoute parler.” However, you can only say that when someone is currently talking. To say that about someone generally, as a character trait, say “il aime s’écouter parler.”
7. Tout va bien
Easy enough, this means “it’s all good” or “everything’s fine.” Use it simply to say how things are going for you, or to claim things are fine when they aren’t. Like if you yell profanities because you spilled wine on the couch, when your roommate yells from her room if everything is okay, you can yell back, “tout va bien!” while you try to get the stain out.
8. Mettre une tarte
While “mettre une patate” means “to punch,” “mettre une tarte” means “to slap.” Remember: a potato (patate) is round like a fist, and a pie (tarte) is flat like an open hand. When your friend won’t stop making fun of your American accent, tell him “Si tu continues, je vais te mettre une tarte” and hopefully he’ll back off. (If not, give him a tarte.)
9. Pas mal de
A three-word adjective, “pas mal de” means “quite a few” or “quite a bit.” When your friend comes back from a weekend trip to the Atlantic City casinos, he’ll tell you “J’ai dépensé pas mal d’argent.”
If you used the Allez-viens! textbook, you learned to say “j’ai des trucs à faire” in the chapter about making plans. Meaning “a thing,” the French say “un truc” all the time. When you want to point out a small spelling mistake in a essay, start by saying “juste un petit truc.” When you want to show someone the backspin ping-pong serve you learned, say “je te montre un truc.” (Note: “un truc” is “a thing” (intangible, an action, a situation) and “une chose” is “something” (tangible).)
11. Voilà voilà
Quintessentially French, “voilà voilà” is what you say when you want to change the subject. Maybe nobody’s is talking and you don’t know what to say, maybe someone told a joke in poor taste, maybe you just embarrassed yourself. In all those moments, you can say, “voilà voilà.”
“Genre” (which is pronounced more like “jaur” with a French accent) has basically three meanings.
1. types of – Il écoute différents genres de musique. (He listens to different types of music)(This is the least common usage.)
2. you know/like – “Je suis genre obsédée par le fromage.” (I’m, like, obsessed with cheese)
3. like (to introduce a quote) – “Il m’a dit genre, ‘j’adore la musique electro,’ alors que c’est nul.” (He was like, I love electro music, even though it’s bad)
Note: you can also drop “genre” at the end of sentences, as explained last month with “tu vois?”