Tag Archives: chouette

Friday’s French – un truc de ouf!

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I’m walking along the street near the Louis Philippe Café behind a young man of about 30, talking loudly on his iPhone and madly gesticulating. “600 euros“, he says, “Un truc de ouf!” and I immediately think of my daughter in New York because it’s one of her expressions.


Truc, truc muche, machin truc, have all been around for a while, but truc de ouf is more recent. So what, exactly, is a truc?

First, it’s a substitute word, like our thingumajig, thingummy, whatsis or even just thing or contraption. Machin is a less trendy synonym. Je trouve pas le truc = I can’t find the whatis. T’as vu le truc de la télé? Have you seen the remote control? Il portait un truc moche. He was wearing something really ugly.

Machin and its feminine, machine, are also used as name substitutes. Le père Machin = Mr what’s-his-name. Machine était là aussi = What’s-her-name was there too.

You can combine it with chouette too, as in machin chouette or go the whole way and say machin truc chouette. You may remember about chouette from my previous post on Spanish cows.

However, truc is also used more specifically, in contexts such as  les trucs du métier, meaning the tricks of the trade, or on le connaît, leur truc = we know what they’re up to.  Il n’a pas compris le truc means he hasn’t got it. Here, it’s no longer a substitute but an actual expression. Il y a un truc! there’s a trick to it! or something’s gone wrong (depending on the context).

Why trucmuche? Muche, it seems, is a (little used) suffix added to any word to make it more incomprehensible. I don’t know what its origin is though.

Truc de ouf is actually verlan, which is a particular kind of French backslang. You invert the syllables and then cut off anything you don’t like to make it sound like a word. Meuf = femme, keuf = flic (slang for police), keum = mec, beur = Arabe.

The word verlan itself comes from à l’envers meaning back-to-front. So truc de ouf = truc de fou = crazy thing.

I may use truc (not often, though, and only when it’s not a substitute, because I’m a maddening purist most of the time), but I would never use truc de ouf or I’d sound like mutton dressed up as lamb, for which I  have never found an equivalent in French, by the way, probably because it doesn’t seem to be a concept here. My grey hair makes me stand out in the crowd!

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Friday’s French – comme une vache espagnole

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Susan from Days on the Claise published a post recently about a florist shop called Vachement Fleurs. She also mentioned in a comment that her neighbour once told her she spoke French comme une vache espagnole – like a Spanish cow. What an insult! But it set me thinking about vache and its variants.

Vachement Fleurs (photo by Susan Walter
Vachement Fleurs (photo by Susan Walter)

Vache espagnole (1627) probably comes from Basque espagnol which is more understandable though still rude.

I have a French friend whose favourite expression – I can hear him saying it as I write – is “Oh, la vache !” which is his empathetic reaction to anything unpleasant.

When you speak of someone as a vache as in quelle vache ! – it’s very close of our “what a sod/swine/cow/bastard”. Vache or grosse vache (fat cow) was also used in the past to designate a prostitute.

Vacherie was originally a herd of cows but now means something nasty or bitchy. Dire des vacheries means making nasty remarks. Quelle vacherie de temps could be used very appropriately to describe the horrendous weather we’re having to put up with at the moment in France. Il m’a fait une vacherie means that he played a dirty trick on me.

The adjective vachement developed along the same lines and was originally negative but now is simply used for emphasis. You can say il faisait vachement mauvais (it was really awful weather) just as easily as il faisait vachement beau (it was really good weather).  A very common expression is vachement sympa which means “really cool”.


Jean Michel says he never uses vachement, that it’s not very elegant, but I’ve heard all sorts of people use it and I’m sure he does too.

The first time I heard the word was in Noumea back in the early seventies when I was still at university, in the expression vachement chouette, roughly meaning “it’s pretty good”, which is very strange because a chouette is an owl (the sort without those pointed tufts on their head called aigrettes in French – otherwise they’re called hibou) . Afterwards, we all used to go around saying “it’s cowly owl” and laughing uproariously. We were very young and silly in those days …

Chouette (no pointed tufts)
Hibou (with pointed tufts)

I checked the origin of chouette but nobody knows why it started to be used in the early 1800s to mean something pleasant. Rabelais used it to describe a loose woman. A connection maybe?

Chouette - without pointed tufts
Chouette – without pointed tufts

Incidentally, vachement fleurs doesn’t appear to have any particular significance. I don’t know whether it’s connected to Vachement Fleur, a chain of florists in Belgium, but they don’t have an “s” on “fleur”.

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