Plaf, Vlan, Patatras: Delicious French Sounds

Jun 9, 2022 | Blog

I love words. Well, of course I do, I’m a writer. But there’s something about onomatopoeic words that is just delicious. They feel good when you say them. The fizz and sizzle of them on your tongue, the satisfying plop as they fall out of your mouth.

I had the realisation of just how French my daughter is when she said ‘oh la la’ in response to seeing a very large stick on a walk in the forest at the weekend. But there are many ‘sounds’ in French that I’ve discovered (largely through reading children’s books to her) that are brilliant and far less well-known.

Here, for your tasting pleasure, are my favourite sounds from the French language:

Aïe! (ayyeee) = To be said when you hurt yourself. For some reason this always sounds more Spanish than French to my ears. The ‘eee’ really allows for some emotion when you say it. The amazing thing is that my daughter will say this when she is speaking with French people and hurts herself, and when she’s with me and hurts herself she’ll say ‘Ow.’

Beurk = When something is unpleasant or gross. I like this one, it feels very expressive of disgust in a way that ‘yuk’ doesn’t quite get.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Chut (shoot) = To show you want someone to be quiet. When you whisper, that’s called ‘chuchoting’ (in a lovely example of Franglais in our house). This one is a little too close to a rude English word for me, always hear it wrong…

Cocorico = The sound a cockerel makes. This makes far more sense to me than cock-a-doodle-do. Also, the Japanese word is exactly the same so I always imagine an animé rooster doing it, which makes it more fun.

Miam (miyam) = To be said when something is delicious. Somehow adding the ‘m’ to the front of ‘yum’ makes it more feline. I always picture a cat enjoying a fish when I hear this one.

Patatras = The sound things make as they fall over. I think having a three syllable word for this really expresses the sense of things gradually toppling.

Photo by Kai Butcher on Unsplash

Pinpon (like ‘maman’ with a p) = The sound a siren makes. Enjoyable to say, but there’s something far more childish about ‘nee naw’ which I enjoy.

Plouf = When something falls into water. There’s something pleasant about the softer sounds of the ‘p’ and ‘f’ to show the impact of things on water. It feels like a more genteel splash.

Ronron (said with a back-of-throat ‘r’) = The noise a cat makes when it’s happy. Can also be used for snoring/sleeping. If I could say it properly, I think this would be an accurate imitation of a cat, but I tend to sound as though I’m clearing my throat.

Photo by Yerlin Matu on Unsplash

Vlan = The sound a door makes when it slams. This probably feels the most unusual to me, I find it hard to assign it to a loud sound.

Zou/Ziyou = Something moving fast. I don’t know why but it feels like whatever you’re describing would be moving faster than if it went ‘whoosh.’

And finally…

Hop (up) = To be said in many, many situations. When you put something down on the table, when you lift someone onto a swing, when you are explaining something (then you water the seed and, hop, it starts to grow). I’ve heard this one used by kids, adults and grandparents. It roughly translates to something like ‘and there you go’ or ‘and that’s it.’ It turns out that this is the most French sound in the world.

Hope you enjoyed the French sounds! Do let me know of any other words you enjoy from other languages @sarahtinsleyuk

Main image by Anthony Choren on Unsplash

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