Monday, January 07, 2008


I had something completely different on the docket for today, but I woke up obsessed. Obsessed with interjections and exclamations, and I can't do anything until I get this thought out of my head. Here's why.

On the bus the other day I heard a stressed-out maman chiding her dawdling son, "Oh là là là là là là là là, " the eight "là's" flying rapidly off her tongue as her head bobbed back and forth. It was accompanied by a biting criticism of his perennial incompetence. But I wasn't thinking about parenting issues. I was thinking about "oh-là-là."

In English we tend to write and pronounce the phrase OOH-LA-LA, and it means something quintessentially French, perhaps exciting, enticing or risqué. (In French, by the way, I think risqué doesn't necessarily imply "naughty" so much as "risky.") This kept my head spinning in linguistic circles, and as you'll see, I never really emerged.

Back to oh-là-là. I've heard it used to express surprise or dismay in French. But pronounced OH, not OOH, with the LAs always in pairs. Sometimes I hear "Ouh-là" (OOH but only one LA) which has a kind of "Ouf! Careful!" meaning, if someone has a heavy package they're lifting, for example.

There are so many English interjections/exclamations (and I'm not going to write a treatise on the difference between the two) that convey a simple emotion. I don't know the French counterparts, or if there are any. So I'm just ladling out a bouillabaisse of my habitual exclamations and am including the French equivalent if I know it, color-coded. (Not the expanded four-letter types, of which there is no shortage in either language...)

Uh-oh. Oh-là-là. Yikes. Arggh. Pee-ew! Whew. Phew. Yahoo! Yay! Hooray! Yippee! Whoopee! Youpi! Ow! Ouch! Aïe! Wow! Yum! Miam-miam! Oh boy. Hmm. Hmm? Eek! Ick! Yuck. Ugh. Ooh. Ew. Um. Euh. Tsk-tsk. Oops! Whoops! Heh-heh. Boo! Huh? Hein? Uh-huh. Yoo-Hoo! Cou-cou! Whoa! Yup. Yep. Ouais.

There. Voilà! Now I can get back to my regularly scheduled program. Phew!


Anonymous said...


B said...

Thank you for these! I am relearning French so I can go live in Paris in July and am always interested in these daily expressions that no doubt get much use. This post helps immensely!


Polly-Vous Francais said...

b - Great that you're coming to Paris in July. I find that I learn the local lingo by osmosis, so you'll have a good month of doing that!

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