Favorite French words: De-country-ing, Russian mountains, and finding ‘Peters’ in the yard

One of the fun parts of learning a foreign language is discovering its idiosyncrasies, or even just the words that sound amusing.

I’ll bet that English has all kinds of curious words that we use without thinking about it. (How about bubble, cacophany, cheesy, wishy-washy, butterfly, ladybug/ladybird…?)

Still, when speaking another language, you notice the unusual words a little more.

Here are a few of my favorite French words:

  1. Vachement (adverb) – really…in a colloquial form, e.g. “it’s really hot today”. But vache means cow, so at least for a non-native speaker it feels like you’re saying “cow-ly”. Plus it has a pleasing, emphatic sound.


  1. Depayser (verb) – to leave your comfort zone/break your habits. It literally translates as to “de-country” (pays = country). I like the fact that it’s generally used in a positive sense, and perhaps because it has resonated whilst moving our family to France for the autumn! Generally I like de-countryifying, and often I learn something along the way.

Dépaysement…it helps when you are somewhere beautiful!

  1. Enchanté! – delighted/pleased to meet you. You are introduced to someone new, and you respond by saying “Enchanté!” It’s charming.


  1. Pierre (noun) – Means rock/stone, as well as being the French version of ‘Peter’. This is fun because the name Peter derives from the word ‘rock’… In the New Testament St Peter was given his name by Jesus: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”.

I’m not sure how the French language kept this word association, while the English did not… Jesus was speaking in Aramaic, but Peter/Pierre comes from the Greek word for rock, ‘petros’…I read somewhere that the Normans brought the name to England (but apparently not the word for ‘rock’).

In any case, I enjoy the fact that when the kids find some interesting stones (which they often do), in French they’d be telling me: “Hey we found some really cool Peters!”


Our two smallest children finding ‘Peters’ out in the gite courtyard

  1. Montagnes Russes – rollercoaster. The French call rollercoasters “Russian mountains”. I spotted this word in one of the children’s books we got from the village library this week, and was completely confused. Now after a little background reading, I know that the first rollercoasters were inspired by ice-sled runs in the mountains outside St Petersburg, Russia. Around the late 1700s or early 1800s, someone had the idea of replicating the concept using carriages on wheels and a track. One of the first ever rollercoasters was built in Paris in 1812, and it was called ‘The Russian Mountains of Belleville’. The name presumably stuck!


  1. Nombrilisme – narcissism/self-centeredness. Literally “belly-button-ism” (nombril means belly button). Kind of like navel-gazing, but more extreme…


  1. Oui – yes. A lot of time, for emphasis we say “Yes! Yes!”, or “oui, oui!” which of course the children find very entertaining. Potty humor is always a winner in our house…


  1. Guili-guili – tickle. A word that fits its meaning very well. It’s really enjoyable to tickle the children while saying ‘guili guili!’

Waiting for a ‘guili-guili’ attack in the bedroom den!

  1. Pamplemousse grapefruit. I have no idea how this word came about (the English version is little strange…it looks nothing like a grape?!), but I’ve thought it was a lovely word ever since school French lessons.


  1. Soixante-dix / Quatre-vingt/ Quatre-vingt-dix – seventy(70)/eighty(80)/ninety(90). I love counting in French! It’s delightfully zany.

This is how it works….you get past sixty, sixty one, so far, so predictable….carry on up to sixty nine…and instead of simply coming up with a word for “seventy”, the French say “sixty-ten”. Then “sixty-eleven”, sixty-twelve” and so on. That feels strange enough, but after reaching “sixty-nineteen”(79), they move on to “four-twenty”(80). Really, French people? You couldn’t just let “80” have its own word?? You have to turn it into a maths lesson? And then at 90, they do it again! Quatre-vingt-dix….four-twenty-ten(90), four-twenty-eleven(91), four-twenty-twelve(92)… It’s kind of a relief to reach 100, which is simply cent.

These are most of my favorite French words. I’d love to hear any words that you particularly enjoy – in French or any other language!


P.S. Featured photo is our local ‘castle of the week’, at Fère-en-Tardenois. We’ve been enjoying visiting ruined castles, plus every post needs a picture – and it looks suitably French to me 😉 




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