of the Villages

The Language Page

Language and its use has always fascinated me. There are so many ways in which the language we use affects our lives and the lives of those around us. In this section I will explore some of the most interesting aspects of this.

The problems of translation

Many French words do not have a direct translation in English, leaving English-speakers with the difficult task of deciphering the nuanced meaning. Here are some of the best untranslatable French words…

Un frileux/une frileuse

This is an adjective used for a person who gets cold easily, however there is no direct equivalent in English. Instead, we would translate it as a phrase such as ‘sensitive to the cold’. For example: ‘Les personnes âgées sont souvent frileuses alors l’hiver est difficile (Older people are often sensitive to the cold so winter is difficult)’.


This is a word used when you find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings. It comes from the verb dépayser which can be translated as the idea of taking a break from your usual routine or to have a change of scenery. The word can have both negative and positive connotations. For example, it could suggest disorientation in a new place, or feeling like you do not belong somewhere. More positively, it can also be used to describe the feeling you are seeking when going on holiday. Nos vacances étaient un dépaysement total (Our holidays were a complete change of scenery).

Yaourter/Faire du yaourt

This is another great word for language learners. ‘Yaourter’ is when you are speaking or singing in another language, but making lots of mistakes and misrepeating what you think you hear. It is commonly used when people do karaoke and copy the noises they hear incorrectly. For example, ‘Il a yaourté des chansons françaises toute la soirée’ (He sang the wrong lyrics to French songs all night).


This again has no direct equivalent; it suggests wandering around aimlessly but happily, while appreciating your surroundings. You can use it in the same sense we would say to have a look around the shops; flâner dans les magasins creates the idea of wandering in and out of shops looking at the products without having any intention of buying anything specific. It can also suggest doing nothing much. For example, you may profiter du week-end pour flâner  (to take advantage of the weekend to laze around/do nothing). A possible English equivalent could be ‘to mooch’ or ‘potter about’.


Bouquiner is an informal way to talk about reading, but the connotation is cosier than ‘lire’. It suggests curling up with a good book, or to have your head in a book, rather than the idea of reading for school, academia or work. Après le travail ce soir je vais bouquiner dans mon lit (After work this evening I am going to curl up in bed with my book).


Originally this term comes from smoking; the idea of someone taking a puff of a cigarette without actually inhaling. For example, Elle ne sait pas fumer, elle crapote (She doesn’t know how to smoke, she puffs without inhaling). However, more broadly speaking it can also be used as a means of describing someone who is fake or who pretends to be something they are not.


While dictionaries will tell you the translation for râler is to complain, it is actually more nuanced than this and there is not an exact translation. The word refers to the idea of grumbling or complaining about anything and everything, no matter how small. For example we could say that, râler permet d’exprimer mon mécontentement, which translates as ‘complaining or grumbling allows one to express their unhappiness’ with a situation.