For members


French word of the Day: Mélo

Embellishing the truth is sometimes key to telling a good story - but some people like to take it too far.

French Word of the Day: Mélo
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know mélo? 

Because some people love drama. 

What does it mean?

Mélo, pronounced “mel-oh”, is short for mélodramatique – melodramatic. 

It comes from the word mélodrame (melodrama) – a theatrical genre which flourished in France in the 18th century. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Pygmalion is widely considered  the first great melodramas. The play was first performed in Lyon in 1770 and tells the story of a sculptor who falls in love with one of his statues – spoiler alert: the Goddess Venus then brings the statue alive. 

The melodrama genre is characterised by sensationalised storylines that aim to tug on the heartstrings. The goal is to achieve the strongest possible emotional appeal.

Early melodramas often integrated music, perhaps helping pave way for modern day musical theatre. 

How do I use it? 

In contemporary French, you can sarcastically use the word mélo to indicate that someone is exaggerating or that they are giving undue emotional importance to a situation. 

C’est mélo hein ? – That’s a bit melodramatic, isn’t it? 

C’est du mélo – It is melodramatic

If you want to go even further you can accuse someone of being mytho – a serial bullshitter or compulsive liar.

Not to be confused with…

Be careful not to confuse mélo with méli-mélo or emméli-mélo which means “a confusing mix/mess/mishmash”. 

Un méli-mélo de symboles ne fait que rebuter les consommateurs au lieu de les informer – A confusing mix of symbols only alienates consumers rather than informing them 

Le modèle social européen est un méli-mélo – The European social model is a mishmash

Mélo is also the name of the “Clefairy” Pokemon in French.

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For members


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.