Deconstruct a French Word: malin

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malin | “MAH-luhn” | adj. | clever; sly; cunning

 

Imagine that little kid you used to babysit. He was always smiling, because he was always getting away with something. Even when you caught him in the act, he knew he was just too cute and that you were gonna end up letting him take that extra piece of candy or watch the extra episode of Bob the Builder, anyway. That kid is 100% malin.

Ex.: Il est malin! Il n’a que deux ans et il arrive quand même à tricher pour gagner le jeu!

Be careful though! Malin is an irregular word. The feminine form looks different than you might expect (although the pronunciation is just as you’d think):

Ex.: Zoë est maligne. Elle a attendu que le prof se retourne avant de glisser sa petite note à Victor.

When used with the verb faire (i.e., “faire le malin”), it means more “to be a smartass.”

But if you want to talk about someone who takes a sick pleasure in doing something, oddly, malin is still the adjective to use:

Ex.: Il prend un malin plaisir à faire sa campagne, Mr Trump.

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: Crevé(e)

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crevé | “KREH-vey” | adj. | punctured; exhausted; dead

Often, the word “crevé” is used to talk about a popped tire. Like…

Ex., J’ai crevé sur l’A4. Il fallait attendre une demi-heure avant qu’un garagiste pouvait venir le remplacer.

In another sense, crevé is used to say you’re totally tired.

Ex., J’ai travaillé 65 heures cette semaine. Je suis complètement crevée!

But in the most extreme (and probably original) meaning of the bunch, the root word – the verb crever – can be used to talk about someone dying (in a sort of offensive, menacing or mean way).

Ex., Il a toujours été méchant avec moi. Qu’il crève, le connard!

So, little recap: Literally, crever means “to die,” but from that literal meaning come the other senses of to be “dead tired” and to kill a tire. I don’t think I could say all those three things can be covered by a single word in English, but isn’t that the fun of learning a language?

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: Radin(e)

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radin | “RAH-duhn” | adj. | cheapskate; stingy

So, radin is actually a dictionary word. Check the La Rousse and you’ll find it there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should say it at work or in front of people you don’t know well. It’s not a bad word, but in general calling someone cheap is something you do behind closed doors. Right?

Ex., Elle m’a dit que 5,50€ est trop pour un repas au resto. Quelle radine!

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: La Vache

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la vache | “lah vash” | int. | damn; shit

Literally, la vache is a cow. Said after stubbing one’s toe, falling in love with an outfit that costs more than one month’s rent or after hearing some pretty gross story from a friend, though, turns it into something of a “swear word.” Use it in place of putain or merde, essentially, to convey a similar feeling with a slightly softer tone.

Ex., Ton mec a dépensé 600 euros sur ses baskets? La vache! Il est con!

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: archi

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archi | “ahr-shee” | adv. | super; very; “hella”

Add archi before any adjective to add emphasis and, basically, sound like the cool middle schoolers I taught a year ago in Alfortville.

Ex., Le nouveau kebab près de chez moi…c’est archi-bon. Je l’ai mangé trois fois cette semaine!

C’est archi-bon, la nouvelle saison d’Orange is the New Black

While it’s normally found in front of the word “bon,” archi can precede adjective you want, really. It only makes it that much more intense.

Mon emploi de temps est archi-fou ce semestre. 20 heures de cours par semaine, plus 20 heures de travail et du baby-sitting à côté…je ne me repose jamais.

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: N’importe Quoi

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n’importe quoi | “num-por-tuh kwoh” | whatever; anything; nonsense or silliness; bullshit

N’importe quoi is absolutely one whose common meaning you won’t find in your French textbook. Literally, it means “anything,” but the way most people use the phrase is to say that something is nonsense – and it tends to carry a negative connotation.

Ex., Il faut faire attention à ce que tu dis à ton professeur. Tu ne peux pas dire n’importe quoi! Sois poli!

Il fait n’importe quoi dans la salle de classe. Il sait pas comment se comporter.

You can use it to describe any non-satisfactory situation, really. Think about exceptionally poor service in a restaurant or a friend of yours mouthing off to someone without cause. Either of those things would be, essentially, n’importe quoi.

Ex., Je suis arrivée il y a 50 minutes et je n’ai toujours pas reçu ma commande. C’est du n’importe quoi! Je ne reviens jamais dans ce resto.

Elle n’a rien fait! Crie pas à elle! C’est n’importe quoi, ta reaction…

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: ouf

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ouf | “oof” | “phew!”; crazy

Ouf can simply be a sound, an utterance that means “phew, that was close!” or “glad that’s done.” You know, the kind of thing you let out at the gym (or, if you’re me, after climbing the stairs to your apartment with your arms full of groceries).

Ex. Ouf! Je deteste monter chez moi avec quatre sacs de courses. Je suis vraiment fatiguée là!

Looking at it from the verlan point of view, “ouf” can be used to talk about a crazy person – in the form of a noun or an adjective

Il est un ouf, ce mec. Il vient de boire 5 shots de Jack tout seul…

Il est ouf! Il se lève a 3h du matin pour cuisiner un repas de steak frites.

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: Se La Péter

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se la péter | “suh la pey-teh” | to brag about oneself; to show off

“Péter” does actually mean “to fart,” but that’s not the point in this phrase. “Se la péter” uses the word in another sense – not to get too deep into the specifics, I’ll just say that “péter” can also mean “to snap/break” like a rubber band.

Here, however, the whole phrase is better understood by not looking too closely at each piece. (This is kind of Rule #1 for all idioms, by the way: don’t look for logic, just memorize the phrase as a whole.)

Ex.: Il a parlé de son Maserati pendant 20 minutes…comme il se la pétait! Il est con, celui-là.

Hé! Arrête de parler de toutes les choses que tu fais à l’université! On s’en fiche! Tu te la pètes, là…

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.

Deconstruct a French Word: Nickel

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nickel | “nee-kell” | perfect; “A-Okay”

No, I haven’t mixed up my French and English. The French say nickel to say something’s perfect, something’s all taken care of or to remark that the situation is 100% good.

Ex.: Solène est déjà sûr la route? Ah, nickel!

Nickel, mes devoirs sont finis, j’ai déjà preparé mon dîner…tout est fait pour ce soir!

You get it now, yes? Nickel!

Featured image of the Dictionnaire Larousse from Camilla Hoel on flickr.