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Word of the day: La risée

An expression you probably don't want to be the subject of.

Word of the day: La risée
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know la risée?

It’s a good one to know in case you are the target of someone’s jokes.

What does it mean?

La risée is the laughter made by a group of people. It comes from rire (to laugh). However it can also be used to mean mockery, ridicule, laughing stock or scorn.

Être la risée de quelque chose means ‘to be the laughing stock of something’.

It’s also used to describe a person or subject that is being mocked or ridiculed – the butt of joke.

In the example below it’s ex Friends actor Matthew Perry who is being mocked.

If you’re talking about the person who is the butt of the joke you use the verb être, but if you’re using to describe the action of ‘taking the piss/taking the Mickey’ you use faire Faire une risée de quelque chose’ means ‘to take the piss out of something or someone.’

Use it like this

Il s’éleva une grande risée du public – the crowd burst into laughter

Si nous arrivons en retard, nous serons la risée de tout le monde – If we’re late everyone will laugh at us

Il se moquait de lui et en faisait la risée de l’école – He mocked him and made him the laughing stock of the school


raillerie – mockery, ridicule

être le dindon de la farce – to be the butt of the joke

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Faire son cinéma

We're probably all tempted to do this after an unexpected, last-minute train or flight cancellation

French Expression of the Day: Faire son cinéma

Why do I need to know faire son cinéma?

Because you might be running out of words to describe your child’s latest meltdown.

What does it mean?

Faire son cinéma – usually pronounced something like fair sohn sin-ay-mah – translates literally to ‘to make one’s theatre,’ but in practice the expression is not about opening your own movie theatre. It is actually used to describe overly dramatic or excessive behaviour, and the best colloquial translation in English would be ‘to make a scene.’

You will likely hear this phrase in French in a particular context – when a parent is chastising their misbehaving child who is likely throwing a temper tantrum. But the expression is not limited to overly tired three year olds – it can also be used to describe melodramatic adults, or people simply hamming it up, as we might say in English. 

The origins of the expression are what you might expect – as actors are known for their exaggerated gestures and simulations, around the mid-20th century, this idea of exaggerated performance became an expression used for anyone (not just those paid for it). There is another similar French expression: Faire tout un cinéma, which translates to ‘making a big deal of something,’ and though similar, it is more so focused on the idea of exaggerating to amuse an audience.

Use it like this

Tu dois arrêter de faire ton cinéma, on était d’accord pour quitter le parc il y a cinq minutes. – You need to stop making a scene, we agreed we would be leaving the park five minutes ago.

La femme à côté de moi a vraiment fait son cinéma. Elle était tellement énervée que son hamburger était froid qu’elle a crié sur le serveur. – The woman next to me really made a scene. She was so upset her burger was cold that she screamed at the server.