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French word of the Day: Mélo

French Word of the Day: Mélo
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Embellishing the truth is sometimes key to telling a good story - but some people like to take it too far.

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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