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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The nine very best French insults (for use when you’re very, very angry)

If you've finally lost your cool over passive aggressive notes in your apartment building's laundry room, if you want to express your displeasure over a parking fine or if you just want a short sharp exchange of views with the person who has told you off for putting your rubbish out on the wrong day, here are the phrases you will need.

The nine very best French insults (for use when you're very, very angry)
Feeling angry? Stop, take a deep breath and learn to swear properly in French. File photo: Depositphotos

The Swiss are generally polite people and they like to observe social niceties such as saying hello to random strangers on the street – a fact which often surprises people from overseas.

Switzerland is also a great place to live: safe, peaceful, clean…and extremely beautiful of course.

Read also: 20 telltale signs you have gone native in Switzerland

That said, as with living anywhere, there are times when people just need to blow off some steam. But if you've truly decided that is enough is enough and someone needs to be given a piece of your mind, there is nothing worse than not having the correct vocabulary to express your fury.

So for those of you living in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, we've gathered together some of the best phrases for expressing everything from mild disappointment to eye-popping rage.

1. Chiant/e

So let's start gently with a relatively mild insult.

Chiant/e is the adjective derived from the verb chier which is a vulgar way to say 'to crap' or 'to shit'. 

But despite this chiant/e isn't quite as offensive or distasteful as you might think. 

It is frequently used in conversation to describe something as 'really irritating', 'really annoying', 'really boring' or in more extreme slang 'a pain in the ass'. 

For example you could say, Ce film est super chiant, ne va pas le voir. – 'This film is super annoying, don't go and see it.'

Or in its feminine form: J'en ai marre de ma petite sœur : elle est chiante! – 'I'm sick of my little sister: she's really irritating!'

2. Relou

This a verlan word, meaning that it is formed by inverting another word's syllables (for more on verlan, click here).
 
In this case, that word is lourd – not in its literal sense, ‘heavy', but rather the figurative one, used to describe a presence or situation that is ‘oppressive', ‘irritating', or ‘unbearable'.
 
Relou is used to talk about someone or something that is irritating or oppressive, but the verlan version, probably because it is less formal and more slangy, carries a little bit of extra oomph.
 
Relou is probably most frequently used when talking about a person whose presence or behaviour is or has become oppressive:
 
Au début, Pierre semblait cool, mais il est devenu trop relou. – At first, Pierre seemed cool, but he got really annoying.
 
Especially when applied to a man, relou usually refers to the sort of guy who makes bad jokes, lacks tact, and doesn't know when their presence is unwanted… think Michael Scott from the Office (or David Brent in the UK version), seen without any sympathy.
 
Arrête de la draguer tout le temps, t'es relou! – Stop hitting on her all the time, you're a pain in the ass!
 
It can also be used to describe a disagreeable situation, much like ‘that sucks' in English.
 
Comment ça se passe, le travail à Lausanne? – Je ne fais que métro, boulot, dodo, c'est relou. – How's the job in Lausanne going? – I do nothing but commute, work, and sleep, it sucks.
 
And finally, relou can be used as a generally disparaging adjective to talk about most things or concepts:
 
Ta gueule! On en a marre de tes blagues reloues! – Shut it! We've had it up to here with your lame jokes!

3. Ta guele!

This brings us neatly to number three on the list, which is used more directly to a person, rather than about them. If you're using this, you've passed the point of trying to reason politely with someone.

The word gueule means ‘muzzle' or ‘maw', and is a colloquial, often pejorative way of referring to either someone's mouth, like ‘gob' or ‘trap'. The phrase ta gueule is a shortened form of ferme ta gueule, meaning ‘shut your gob' or ‘shut your face'. Ta gueule, the most frequently used variation, is most often translated as ‘shut up!', as in:
 
T'as vu ? Le PSG a perdu à nouveau hier soir! – Ta gueule! Did you see? PSG lost again last night!- Shut up!
 
4. Vénère

Not exactly an insult as such, but if you want to tell people that you're really, really angry this is the way to do it.

Vénère is another verlan one and it's one that you will frequently see in street demos and protests as people describe themselves as well and truly pissed off.

It's verlan for énervé, meaning ‘irritated', ‘angry', or even ‘pissed off' – the first and last ‘é' are combined (énervé -> vé-éner -> vénère). As in, Je suis trop vénère, ta soeur m'a piqué mon mec! – I'm really angry, your sister stole my man!
 
Or, Son père était hyper vénère quand il a appris sa note au bac. – His dad was super pissed when he found out about his grade on the bac (end of high school exam).
 

5. Tu m'emmerdes

If your neighbour has kept you awake for the third night in a row partying or arguing with his significant other, that would probably be an appropriate time for this phrase.

The literal translation of tu m'emmerdes is 'you're shitting on me'. 
 
But it really means 'you're pissing me off!', 'you're bugging me!' or 'you're getting on my nerves!'
 
Tu m'emmerdes avec ton bruit – You're pissing me off with your noise.
 
 
6. Faux cul
 
Quite a specific insult this – it basically means hypocrite, so you will need to get the context right, although it can probably be safely shouted at all politicians.
 
The words faux cul, sometimes written faux-cul, actually mean “false bottom”, or maybe “false ass”, given that cul is the vulgar French word for one's backside. Originally, faux cul described an apparatus worn under the dress by 19th century women (sometimes called a “bustle” in English), often along with a corset, in an attempt to emphasise their curves.
 
Because of the use of the faux cul to misrepresent one's appearance, it soon became a synonym for “hypocrite”, “phony” or “two-faced”. As in, Ce faux cul, il nous dit qu'il faut beaucoup travailler, mail il ne fait jamais rien. – “That hypocrite, he tells us that you have to work hard, but he never does anything.”
 
Or – Elle m'avait dit précisément le contraire. Quel faux cul! “She told me exactly the opposite. What a phony!”
 
 
7. Raclure de bidet
 
Very much the nuclear option of insults, since you're describing someone as bidet scum, so probably best to keep this one for someone you are quite definite that you will never be friends with.
 
But if you'd like an inventive way to put someone in their place then you might want to crack out: T'es une raclure de bidet. – 'You bidet scum.'
 
8. Merde/connard/salope and . . . putain!
 
If you slightly balk at describing someone as the scrapings left at the bottom of a bidet, you could try some common or garden variety French swearing – merde (shit), salope (bitch) con or conard/conasse (asshole or dickhead – conasse is used for a woman) but the daddy of all French swearing is putain.
 
So fabulously versatile is this word that the French site of The Local devoted an entire article to its many uses.
 
Interestingly, although it's usually translated into English as 'fuck' it's not always a particularly strong word (although you still wouldn't say it to your grandma).
 
It all depends on how it's used. But if you're screaming Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d'enculer ta mère (we blush to translate, let's just say it's very rude) at someone, then they'll probably get the idea that you are mildly perturbed.
 
 
But of course, it's highly likely that when you do finally blow your stack you'll forget all of these and only remember what you should have said much later.
 
And helpfully, French has a phrase for that too. Esprit d'escalier (literally translated as staircase wit) describes the moment when you think of a perfect retort for an argument – but only much later when the argument has finished.
 
It's said that 18th century French philosopher Diderot coined the phrase because he found that it was only by walking away from the argument, literally down the stairs, that he could he think of a suitable riposte.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ

Even with High German, the differences between writing and speaking are stark.

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ
The Swiss and German flags fly near German parliament. Image: WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP

You’ve spent hours learning the difference between Genitiv and Dativ, poring over complicated article tables and mastering complicated word order rules… only to step off the plane in Germany and realise you can barely understand a thing. 

Fear not – this is a common experience for many language-learners. The German you’ll read in your textbooks is not the same as the German you’ll hear on the street, so here’s a list of seven important differences to help you hit the ground running. 

And don't get us started on Swiss German – that's a whole other kettle of hot cheese.

1. Word order

German is notorious for its difficult word order, with subordinating conjunctions such as da and weil sending the verb to the end of a clause and tying non-native speakers in knots.

Whilst the importance of correct word order will be drilled into you in language classes, you’ll often find native German speakers themselves shirking the rules.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you've mastered the German language

Sentences with multiple clauses can prove difficult even for native speakers, who will often opt to keep the verb where it is rather than sending it to the end.

Ich habe gestern den ganzen Tag im Bett verbracht, weil ich war so müde (correct formulation: weil ich so müde war). 

I spent the whole day in bed yesterday because I was so tired.

Germans will also often play with word order to emphasise certain aspects of the sentence, even if it is not technically grammatically correct. 

Ich putze das Haus gerade (correct formulation: ich putze gerade das Haus)

I am cleaning the house at the moment.

2. Past tense

When Germans tell stories or speak about what they got up to last weekend, you’re much more likely to hear the present perfect rather than the preterite. 

With the exception of some verbs, such as haben or sein, many native speakers would find it strange to speak with the preterite in everyday life.  

If you’re in doubt during a conversation, opting for ich bin gefahren (I went) rather than ich fuhr will always be a safe bet. 

READ ALSO: Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make

3. Mixed up cases

The case system in German can take years to master, and learning the correct uses of the dative and genitive can be a particular sore point for many non-native speakers.

However you’ll see many native German speakers making the same mistakes on a daily basis. 

The genitive case is being used less and less in spoken language, with many simply replacing it with the dative equivalent. 

Take the preposition wegen, for example: technically this word should be followed by the genitive case, but you’ll often hear wegen dem Wetter (due to/as a result of the weather) instead of wegen des Wetters in everyday conversation.

A similar phenomenon occurs with the possessive genitive:

When talking about ‘Steven’s car’, for example, Stevens Auto (correct German formulation) becomes dem Steven sein Auto (replaced with dative). 

For many native German speakers, using the genitive when speaking now feels unnatural and stilted – in fact, this ‘mistake’ has become so widespread that many Germans now mix their cases up when writing.

4. Abbreviations

Much like in English, German speakers are also partial to shortening words where possible. So much so that it’s not uncommon to hear multiple abbreviations within the same sentence. 

Popular Abkürzungen (abbreviations) include the shortening of articles, for example eine to ‘ne, or the merging of words such as fürs for für das.

Ich brauche einen Computer fürs Studium.

I need a computer for my studies. 

Es war ‘ne tolle Erfahrung! 

It was a great experience!

READ ALSO: Ten German abbreviations that will have you texting like a true native

5. Swallowed sounds

Similarly, German speakers will often drop the letter at the end of a verb, losing the ‘e’ sound to make a sentence flow more smoothly. 

This doesn’t work for all verbs, but it is most commonly heard with verbs such as ich habe (I have) which becomes ich hab’ or ich glaube (I believe) which becomes ich glaub’.

Verbs in the plural form can also be shortened, with wir gehen (we go) becoming wir geh’n and sie sehen (they see) becoming sie seh’n.

6. Modal particles 

Spoken German is also littered with small words that are incredibly difficult to translate but very important to help understand the context of a sentence.

What is more, the intonation used when pronouncing these filler words is key to interpreting the tone of the speaker, meaning they don’t work as well when written on the page. 

READ ALSO: Das ist ja mal wictig: The complete guide to German particles

One of the most common of these is halt – it comes from the verb halten (to stop), but is often used to add ‘colour’ to sentences, to express a tone of resignation or to buy time when someone is unsure of what to say, just as with ‘like’ or ‘just’ in English.

Other untranslatable modal particles include doch, eben and mal – whilst they can originally be confusing, language learners soon get a feel for when they should be used. 

Du hast mir nicht geschrieben! 

You didn’t send me a message!

Doch! 

Yes I did! 

Das Ding ist halt, dass immer noch so viele Fehler beim Sprechen mache.

The thing is that I still make so many mistakes when I speak.

Sollen wir bald mal was zusammen machen?

Should we hang out together soon?

7. Slang 

Last but not least are the widely used slang words that pepper everyday speech, especially amongst young people. 

Many slang terms vary from region to region, but they’re much more common in spoken language than in written language as they suggest a degree of informality.  

Words such as krass and geil can be used to show you’re impressed by something, whilst the question Na? has become a common colloquial greeting.

Want to sound like a true native when you speak? For a deeper look at German slang, visit our guide here. For Swiss German, click here. 

 
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