Cursing Abroad: French Insults To Round Out Your Studies

French people love the F-word as much as English speakers do. Here’s what else they love.
Two cranes fighting in mid-air

Maybe half the fun of learning French is being able to elegantly pronounce all of its unpronounced letters, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you stop at learning how to ask about someone’s day. French insults are colorful, inventive, and yes, kind of brutal. Who wouldn’t want to call someone a “diarrhea pump” and still have it sound like an expensive menu item?

It’s perhaps true that Hollywood has contributed to a mythos of France as an epicenter of dainty refinement, but the French also happen to love their curse words. So voracious is the appetite for French insults that the French sometimes resort to insulting each other in English. That is, they lob F-bombs about as much as English speakers do, and they don’t bother censoring it in TV shows or newspaper headlines.

In a pinch, you could probably just pepper your French with a few “fucks” and call it a day — because foreign curse words often register as less jarring, you probably won’t offend too many people. But if deepening your command of the French language is what you’re after, here are a few choice French insults to add to your arsenal.

Casse-toi ! — This literally translates to “Break yourself!”, but it’s basically like telling someone to go away in not-very-nice terms.

Fiche le camp ! — If you’re looking for a slightly nonsensical way to tell someone off, you could tell them to “card the camp!” This one is kind of impossible to translate. Ficher means “to file; to card,” but the verb in this expression has totally lost its meaning.

Je te chie dans le cou — “I shit down your neck.” This appears to be a quote from Full Metal Jacket, but its appeal is timeless.

Lavette — If you call someone a lavette, you’re indicating that they’re about as pathetic and spineless as a limp dish rag.

Moule à merde — Hopefully this won’t appear on any French-language menus you encounter, because this is not a mussel preparation you’ll find palatable. This literally translates to “mussel full of shit” and implies that one is about as intelligent as a bivalve lacking a central nervous system.

Peau de zob — This term more or less translates to “scrotum skin” or “penis skin face.” It shouldn’t require any explanation why this would be an insulting thing to call someone, but the invective behind this is that you’re referring to a part of the body that isn’t valuable or useful (which doesn’t make sense anatomically, but we digress).

Pèter plus haut que son cul — Used to diss someone who’s putting on airs, showing off, or acting like their crap doesn’t stink, this literally translates to “to fart higher than one’s ass.”

Pompe à chiasse — Lit. “diarrhea pump.” If you want to vividly illustrate to someone how full of crap they are, well, here you go.

Putain — Don’t sleep on this classic, utilitarian curse. Putain stands on its own, and though it literally translates to “whore,” the sentiment it’s usually imbued with places it more in line with an interjection like “damn!” or “fuck!”

Roi des cons — If you want to crown somebody as the stupidest of all, just tell them they’re the king of idiots.

Ta gueule — If you translated this directly, it would just come out as “your mouth.” But there’s a different word for “human mouth” and “animal mouth” in French, and this phrase is referring to the latter. So essentially, you’d be telling someone to shut their muzzle.

Ta mère est tellement petite que sa tête pue des pieds — You didn’t think we’d leave you without at least one good “your mom” jab, did you? This translates to “your mother is so small, her head smells of feet.” “Feet” has a loaded meaning in French, as they’re symbolically the furthest from the brain, and so associated with stupidity.

Tu parles français comme une vache espagnole — Note: you should probably be pretty confident in your own French before you use this on anyone else. This phrase translates to “you speak French like a Spanish cow.”

Va te faire cuire un œuf ! — “Go cook yourself an egg!” The sentiment here is that you are commanding someone to go occupy themselves with something else so that you leave them the hell alone.

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