The 24 best words in the French language

What’s your favourite word? We asked 24 listeners, past guests, and even each other for the “best” French word in existence. From dragonflies to hardware shops, here’s the full list from the show, as well as a few links to check out the blogs and pages we mentioned.

Listen to the episode by clicking play just below (complete with sound effects) and check your spelling in the list underneath.

The full word list.

1. Pamplemousse (grapefruit), says Veronique who runs French Girl in Seattle. “It appeals to all my senses: I love the way the word sounds, the taste, and the appearance of a grapefruit… and I love the very distinctive scent,” she says.

2. Bof (a disinterested sound people make), says tour guide Corey Frye. “The three most important letters in French,” he says. Hear his top tip for each Paris arrondissement here.

3. En fait (actually).”You just chuck it on the end of everything and it works,” says Matt from movie masters in Paris Lost in Frenchlation.

4. Formidable (excellent):”It has a finesse to it, and makes me think of the Stromae song,” says author Lindsey Tramuta, who wrote The New Paris. What’s she talking about? This excellent tune:

5. Menilmontant, a place in Paris that means a lot to Samuel Barrantes of Slim and the Beast (hear him in the pilot episode here).

6. Rabibocher, meaning “to get together” especially after a break-up, says listener Carolyn.

7. Aspirateur, meaning vacuum, “It just sounds so much more interesting than vacuum”, says listener Shelly

8. Couilles, says comedian Paul Taylor. This word means “balls” (as in testicles). Why does Paul like the word? “Because no anglophone can pronounce it properly,” he says. No surprises that Paul likes a good swear word – his TV show is called What the Fuck France? (We had him in the studio too for a warm beer and a chat).

9. Merde (meaning shit), says author Stephen Clarke. Stephen’s numerous novels have the word merde (shit) in the title, so it’s no surprise he likes this word. We had Stephen on the Earful too to talk about the French. Here’s his episode.

10. Vachement, meaning really really, says writer Lisa Anselmo. “In France, a country famous for its cheese, it’s not terribly surprising a word like “cowly” would creep in,” she says. Listen to her full episode on the Earful here.

11. Trottoir (footpath), says Kate Goodbody, who runs the More Native than the Natives blog. “I love the idea of people trotting down the street,” she says.

12. Papillon, says regular listener Dingo Mike. “It means butterfly and bow-tie, two beautiful things and a beautiful word,” he says.

13. Pompette, a pleasant word for “tipsy”, says Lina from Parisian Postcards. “It sounds like the name of a poodle.” Listen to her episode here.

14. Rouflaquettes, meaning “sideburns”, says Sam Davies, though the jury is still out on if this is a real word. Sam was also on the Earful, getting creative with language.

15. Libellule, says Jennifer who writes the blog Chez Loulou. “For the fact that I love dragonflies and it’s a great word to say,” she says.

16. Truc, meaning “thing”, says Gail of PerfectlyParis. “It covers everything, it’s vague, indirect and can refer to anything.” Isabelle in Sweden adds: “Best word ever for someone who wants to believe she sounds more French than she does.”

17. Grenouille (frog), says Coutume cafe’s Tom Clark. “If you can pronounce it, you can speak French.” Hear his episode on the Earful here.

18. Dégueulasse (disgusting), says Ben McPartland, the editor of The Local France. “Sounds like a character from Lord of the Rings,” he says.

19. Ancre/Encre (anchor/ink), says Breton sailor Fabien. The words both mean a lot to me, he says, literature and travel.

20. Quincaillerie, a hardware shop, says Joey Yanity on Facebook. “It’s pretty fun to say.” We agree!

21. Flâneur, an aimless walker, says Tami Tamir-Shaughnessey. “It’s my favourite thing to do in Paris.”

22. Déchetterie (a dump, a tip), says Jim Carmichael. “I like the way it rolls off the tongue,” he says.

23. Croutte, says producer James. “It’s actually my least favourite French word, it means crust and scab. Revolting.”

24. Inoubliable (unforgettable), says host Oliver. “I like the sound of the word, it sounds like a foreigner imitating a French person…”

If you want to see more like this, then join our Facebook followers here and find our new Instagram page @theearfultower. Click the link below to hear the full episode of this list.

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Further listening:

If you like this episode, then head over to our language section for more of the same.

8 thoughts on “The 24 best words in the French language

  1. Hey Oliver – listening to you from the San Francisco Bay Area. You were curious where your listeners are coming from. Found you from French Girl in Seattle. I always check in with The but like the old layout better.

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