3 Untranslatable French Words

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By Mary Clements

I hope everyone is keeping well! This week in Ontario we had a major winter snowfall that has delayed many schools here in the greater Toronto area from getting back to in-person for another 2 days. Hopefully most students are finally back today 🙂

I was recently reading with one of my students and was reminded about some interesting words in the French language that do not have English direct equivalents, so I thought I’d share some with you here!

Word 1: Dépaysement 
First thing I notice in this word is it contains the word “pays” which means country with a dé in front to it, so it sounds like “de-countried” in english which of course isn’t a word.

While dépaysement can be used to describe the discomfort of breaking your routine or being homesick, it can also describe a positive feeling and something that people even seek out. People travell the world in search of dépaysement, and any change of landscape, climate, or culture can evoke it.

J’aime japon car le dépaysement y est total.
“I love Japan because it’s a complete change of scenery.”
Son nouveau école l’a un peu dépaysé.
“His new school left him a little disoriented.”

Word 2: Yaourter (informal)
This one is funny because the first thing I notice in this word is “yaourt” which means yogurt + er would make it a verb…yogurt..ing? Nope that’s not it!

Yaourter or Chanter en yaourt (“To sing in yogurt”) is the act of gibberish singing when you don’t know the lyrics or the language of the song. (Kinda like when the kids are first learning the French lyrics to O’Canada lol)

Elle a yaourté de la j-Pop toute la soirée.
“She’s been yogurting j-Pop songs all night long.”

Word 3: Cartonner (informal)
Another curious word, carton mean cardboard and again with the added er to make it a verb..cardboard…ing? Not quite!

Cartonner means to be very successful at something or to be a hit!

Cet chanson va cartonner en Japon.
“This song will be a hit in Japan.”
Il a cartonné à son examen de Français!
“He did great on his French exam!.”

I hope you enjoyed this little dive into some tricky French words! There are quite a few more like this as well!