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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Word of the Day: Emmerder

If something or someone is really annoying you, here's a good one to let rip with (unless you are the president, possibly).

French word of the Day: Emmerder
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ‘emmerder’?

It’s the word of the moment in French political circles, after President Emmanuel Macron caused some upset with it.

He told Le Parisien newspaper: Les non-vaccinés, j’ai très envie de les emmerder. Et donc on va continuer de le faire, jusqu’au bout – The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so we will continue to do it, until the end)

That statement provoked no small amount of political uproar. It led to a second suspension of the debate on the vaccine pass bill in the National Assembly, and offered up easy political point-scoring ammunition to his rivals.

What does it mean?

The French political story got so big, it was picked up by media all over the world.

You can read our report on it here. Elsewhere, Macron’s colourful language caused headline writers a few issues. 

The BBC and CNN both opted for ‘hassle’. Other news organisations decided to go with ‘get on the nerves’, or ‘annoy’. These translations, while catching the general drift of Macron’s comment, fail to convey the full force of the word he used – which is really not one for tender ears. Yet more opted for asterisks.

The literal translation of emmerder is ‘to shit [on]’ but, these days, it really means ‘to piss off’.

It’s not the worst word Macron could have chosen, but it demonstrated a high level of presidential frustration that ‘annoy’ or ‘hassle’ – diplomatic synonyms for polite society – just don’t convey. They’re a bit soft to fully colour its true sentiment and meaning.

It’s possible Macron was referencing one of his predecessors, Georges Pompidou, who famously growled “Stop pissing off the French! (Arrêtez d’emmerder les Français) in an outburst over the number of new laws being implemented in the country. Ironically, the target of Pompidou’s outburst in 1966, when he was Prime Minister, was a young Jacques Chirac, who would also later hold the highest office in the land. 

When should you use it?

Maybe don’t say it in a newspaper interview at a crucial time in a pandemic in the run-up to a presidential election that you’re thinking of running in (although it will probably be mostly forgotten by the time voting comes around).

It’s not the most impolite French word you could use, but it’s one of those informal gathering ones, so it’s perhaps wise to avoid it in job interviews or performance reviews, for example. Or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. Avoid using it in that sort of best-behaviour situation, at least until someone else has said it first…

Use it like this 

Ne les laissez pas vous emmerder – Don’t let them piss you off

Tu m’emmerdes avec tes questions – You’re getting on my nerves with all your questions

Toujours, il venait m’emmerder – He always used to come and hassle me

Arrête de nous emmerder – Stop bothering us

Member comments

  1. Totally agree with Macron and would emmerder the anti-vaxxers by saying “ok, you think it’s a violation of your human rights to be vaccinated ? What about the rights of the rest of us to get through this crisis and get back to a normal life again? Stick with your ‘rights’ and stay at home. Do not come out from under your stone until this is all over”.

    1. Sadly, this is not going to go over, just by itself. The virus stays with us until we learn to live with it. That does not mean to “just accept loads of people dying”. It means we have to change our behaviour and implement measures that we know to prevent infections. Such as highly improved ventilation in public buildings like school, restaurants and bars, cultural buildings and museums, public transport, as well as integrating bug killing equipment in air treatment systems such as ozone generators, uv-lamps.
      These are all existing technologies that are not used now because they are thought to be too expensive. As if testing etc costs nothing.

      The Victorians learned to live with cholera and typhoid fever by installing sewage treatment systems and piped drinking water. “Learning to live with it” didn’t mean accepting thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of sick people. Sticking our heads in the sand and waiting it out, braving the waves, and other macho expressions is not going to work. Governments will have to spend money on improving our living environment, the air we breathe inside. And make spaces larger, not packing people like sardines in a tin.

  2. Also totally agree with president Macron. It is about time those anti-vaxxers started thinking more about the rest of us rather than just themselves. There are, sadly, some who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and who must be respected because of that. As for the rest….

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.

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