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Pardon? - Romance is in the air

Pardon? - Romance is in the air

Romance is in the air so our Language expert Emma-Jane Lee shares some sweet nothings to help us express our love....

french-language-help-tips-love-romanceWith St Valentine’s Day just around the corner, your mind might have wandered towards thoughts of hearts and kisses. Rather than try to tackle the complications of les bisous - the kisses you give when you greet a person - it seemed much simpler to share some expressions involving the mouth and the heart. Les bisous is a subject for a rulebook all of its own. Whether you shake hands, or you give two, three or four kisses is the subject matter for a more lengthy response than this one. La bise might be a kiss, but it also means the North wind, so make sure you don’t mix up the two. One is much more frosty than the other!

Like Italian, French has a reputation of being the language of love, and if you grew up with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin sighing ‘je t’aime’ you are probably more than familiar with the reputation of a Frenchman to utter words of tenderness, les tendresses. Even Pepé Le Pew, the popular Looney Tunes French skunk, was a self-designated ‘locksmith of love’! French, then, gives us plenty of words d’amour.

Terms of endearment are such a lovely way of expressing love, and not just for St Valentine’s. Les douceurs, literally ‘sweetnesses’ or terms of endearment are often similar to ones you will find in the English-speaking world. My neighbour refers to his wife as ma moitié or ‘my half’. It’s similar to our expression of ‘my other half’ or even ‘my better half’. When I was at school, I loved the idea of mon chou as a term of affection, meaning ‘my cabbage’. It could also be referring to the pastry used to make profiteroles, but I like to think of it as being a term of affection about a cabbage.


Not unlike South Yorkshire, you can of course refer to someone as ‘my duck’, mon canard. You will also hear mon ange or mon lapin if you are lucky. ‘My angel’ and ‘my rabbit’. Mon cœur is popular too, meaning ‘my heart’. If someone calls you ‘my little quail’, ma petite caille, don’t be too distressed. It’s a term meant with love! It’s also the same with dogs, wolves and pigs. Mon petit cochon, mon petit chien or mon petit loup are all perfectly respectable ways for a woman to refer to her love.

Many more expressions are much more similar to their cross-Channel cousins, including mon amour for ‘my love’, and mon chéri or ma chérie for ‘my dear’.

Kisses and hearts are all the rage come February, and there are also plenty of expressions involving mouths, lips and hearts. Some are definitely more pleasant than others. In fact, some are distinctly off-putting and unromantic.

La bouche is not just a mouth of a human, but the mouth of all kinds of inanimate objects. From une bouche d’incendie (a fire hydrant) to une bouche d’égout (a manhole or sewer opening), la bouche isn’t always something delicate and divine. In fact, in French we also have une bouche de métro for a metro or subway entrance. We also have une bouche d’aération for an air vent. Not quite so romantic!

My favourite expression in French on the subject of mouths is être bouche bée. To be flabbergasted. Now, there’s an interesting expression to explain in English. In French, it literally means ‘to be mouth gaping’, and is a perfect expression for any event that leaves you speechless. I also like motus et bouche cousue which means ‘keep it to yourself’. Having a bouche cousue or a sewn-up mouth indicates that whatever you’re sharing needs to be kept strictly hush-hush! Mum is definitely the word.

If the object of your affections is refined, you might think they have a fine bouche: a fine mouth. This means they appreciate the finer things in life and like good food. On the other hand, someone who might faire la fine bouche or ‘make a fine mouth’, is someone fussy and difficult to please. They might even make their mouth into something resembling the nether regions of a chicken or avoir une bouche en cul-de-poule if they’re trying to get to you to do something for them. This vulgar expression means when you purse your lips in buttering up someone, attempting to wrap them around your little finger.

If you have no words of love to share, remember that a smile is a kiss from the soul. Le sourire est le baiser de l’âme. Most of all, je vous souhaite une bonne fête de St-Valentin!


Emma is a jack-of-all-language-trades, writing English textbooks, translating, marking exam scripts and teaching languages. She lives near
La Rochefoucauld with her growing menagerie. See