When ‘franglais’ in French adverts goes horribly wrong

Advertisers seem to find it irresistible to drop English words into French adverts - and vice versa - but this can lead to some very awkward translation fails. Here are some of the funniest (and NSFW) examples of 'franglais' going wrong.

When 'franglais' in French adverts goes horribly wrong
English phrases are common in French advertising. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

In France Burger King’s new advert for its bacon burger has been raising eyebrows – and fits of giggles – among English-speakers thanks to its unfortunate use of English.

The advert is announcing the return of the Bacon Lover burger and attempts a pun on the popular phrase ‘faire son come-back‘ – although come-back is an anglicism, the phrase faire le come-back is widely used in France, especially among younger people.

The advert’s copywriters then attempted to add in a bacon pun and ended up with the strapline Il fait son come-bacon (it’s made its come-back).

Unfortunately, ‘come’ in English is also widely used as a slang term for both orgasm and semen, so for native speakers of English, the advert appeared to be for a ‘semen bacon burger’ – leading to it being widely shared and mocked on social media.

And it’s not the only example of the addition of English words that make French marketing slightly surprising. 

Likewise this French bookstore’s attempt to pun on the English word ‘book’ leads to a rather aggressive ambience.

But it’s not just French copywriters who are prone to this, English-language adverts often contain a sprinkling of French words in order to give a more ‘sophisticated’ image.

This can backfire, however, as in the below advert for a range of frozen canapés.

The original strap-line ‘little bites, big compliments’ makes perfect sense in English, along with a trio of people apparently enjoying a laugh and a bite-sized morsel.

However, the copywriters then attempt to give it a French flavour by substituting petite for ‘little’ – unfortunately une bite in French (pronounced beet) is a slang term for penis, so now the line reads ‘little pricks, big compliments’ and the laughter of the women in the picture takes on a slightly different tone.

The word bite is a frequent offender here, with Marks & Spencer’s range of ‘mini bites’ provoking giggles among shoppers in Paris, where the British products are sold without being translated into French.

Likewise the below Kit-Kat chocolate snacks on sale in Montreal include both the English and the French for the word ‘bites’, but to French-speakers look like they’re called ‘bite-sized cocks’.

Also into the Franglais hall of fame goes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attempted to diffuse a cross-Channel row about defence contracts by telling the French to ‘Donnez-moi un break‘ (give me a break).

The phrase from the (fluent French-speaking) British PM, caused some confusion since un break is frequently used in France to mean a family car or station wagon.

So Johnson appeared to be saying ‘Give me a family vehicle’ – which might at least come in handy to transport his unspecified number of children. 

And it’s not just Franglais that runs the risk of this type of translation failing.

The below Swedish advert attempted to make a pun on ‘tea’ and ‘therapist’ and ended up appearing to warn shoppers about the tea-rapist.

Member comments

  1. There’s a Thai restaurant on the edge of La Défense that’s called “Thaïoria”, which may work in French, but the second you say it in English…

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Italian word of the day: ‘Inchiodare’

You'll nail this word in no time.

Italian word of the day: 'Inchiodare'

What do a carpenter, a detective, and a bank robber screeching to a halt in their getaway car all have in common?

In English, not much – but in Italian, they could all be said to inchiodare (eenk-ee-ohd-AHR-eh) in the course of their professional activities.

In its simplest form, inchiodare simply means ‘to nail’ (chiodo, ‘kee-OH-do’, is a nail) – a picture to a wall, or a leg to a table.

Ha trovato questo cartello inchiodato alla sua porta.
She found this notice nailed to her door.

Inchioderò la mensola al muro più tardi.
I’ll nail the shelf to the wall later.

But like ‘to nail’, inchiodare has more than one definition.

You can use it to describe someone or something being ‘pinned’ in place, without actually having been literally nailed there.

Mi ha inchiodato al muro.
He pinned me to the wall.

La mia gamba è inchiodata al terreno.
My leg is pinned to the ground.

You can be metaphorically inchiodato to a place in the sense of being stuck there, tied down, or trapped.

Dovrei essere in vacanza e invece sono inchiodata alla mia scrivenia.
I should be on holiday and instead I’m stuck at my desk.

Don'T Forger You'Re Here Forever GIF - The Simpsons Mr Burns Youre Here GIFs

Siamo inchiodati a questa scuola per altri tre anni.
We’re stuck at this school for another three years.

Sono stati inchiodati dal fuoco di armi.
They were trapped by gunfire.

Just like in English, you can inchiodare (‘nail’) someone in the sense of proving their guilt.

Chiunque sia stato, ha lasciato tracce di DNA che lo inchioderanno.
Whoever it was, they left traces of DNA that will take them down.

Ti inchioderò per questo omicidio.
I’m going to nail you for this murder.

Thomas Sadoski Tommy GIF by CBS

Senza la pistola non lo inchioderemo, perché non abbiamo altre prove.
Without the gun we’re not going to get him, because we have no other proof.

For reasons that are less clear, the word can also mean to slam on the brakes in a car.

Ha inchiodato e ha afferrato la pistola quando ha visto la volante bloccando la strada.
He slammed on the brakes and grabbed the gun when he saw the police car blocking the road.

Hanno inchiodato la macchina a pochi passi da noi.
They screeched to a halt in the car just a few feet away from us.

Those last two definitions mean that you’re very likely to encounter the word when watching mystery shows or listening to true crime podcasts. Look out for it the next time you watch a detective drama.

In the meantime, have a think about what (or who) you can inchiodare this week.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.