Sometimes referred to as “the language of love,” many people consider French to be one of the world’s most beautiful languages. Many have fallen in love with beautiful French words and the melodic French intonation, and even more have fallen in love with the beautiful French culture. Some researchers even believe a language’s beauty might be determined by how we view a particular group of people rather than their language. So it’s no surprise that the most visited country in the world is also home to one of the most commonly learned second languages in the world.
Either way, we can still appreciate the beauty in any language no matter the reason for the beauty behind it. Some words are beautiful because they flow right off the tongue; others are beautiful because they can’t be perfectly translated into another language. So whether you’re looking to add to your growing list of vocabulary or learn some French words that would be nice to have in English, keep reading to learn 17 unique and beautiful French words.
Literally “to leaf.” Feuilleter means to quickly read without really paying attention, unlike the English “to leaf,” which is usually defined as reading casually.
Éphémère means short-lived, ephemeral. This word, dotted with e’s, slips right off the tongue. Just beware because éphémère has a slightly less romantic definition when used as a noun to mean “mayfly.”
This adjective describes something that comes from a dream. It comes from the Greek ὄνειρος, which means “dream.”
This word literally means “un-country-ness” and can describe anything from a change of scene to culture shock to disorientation.
5. Un je-ne-sais-quoi
This famous phrase is used in both English and French to mean a touch or hint of something and literally means “I don’t know what.” The beauty in je-ne-sais-quoi is that it’s our way to put words to something otherwise indescribable.
6. Un exutoire
Un exutoire is an activity that helps you rid yourself of an unpleasant or uncomfortable feeling or memory.
7. Être à l’Ouest
Literally “to be in the west,” être à l’Ouest means to daydream or be spaced out. It can also mean to be out of it, a feeling usually caused by exhaustion. Some think être à l’ouest came about during WWI due to the English expression “to go west” meant to die or be killed. Others believe it came about when all of the theaters were situated on the east side of Paris, leaving the actors to go à l’ouest when they wanted to go home and sleep.
8. L’appel du vide
Ever stand by an open window on the 7th story of a building or climbed to the top of a lighthouse and thought, “What if I just jumped?” For the French, that is l’appel du vide, or “the call of the void,” which describes the feeling of wanting to jump off something when you’re high off the ground.
If you know anything about the French, you probably know they don’t like to give up their five weeks of guaranteed vacation per year. When school gets out at the end of June/beginning of July, families flock to the nearest beach or campground to relax, and those who tend to travel in July are called the juilletistes.
You might have already guessed it after learning about the juilletistes, but the French who take their summer vacation in August are called the aoûtiens.
11. L’esprit d’escalier
Have you ever been in a disagreement and not have the wit to respond to the latest quip of your adversary, but then later, hours after the fight is over, you think of the perfect response? That is l’esprit d’escalier, which is the feeling of thinking of the perfect reply a little too late, and it means “the wit of the staircase,” or “the mind of the staircase.”
Yaouter is not on this list for the way it sounds in conversation because yaourt is notoriously one of the most challenging words for non-French speakers to pronounce. But those three vowels sandwiched in the middle of the word makes it perfect for its definition. Yaouter is a verb that describes the sounds you make when trying to sing a song, but you don’t know the words.
Retrouvailles is a term that describes the happiness of meeting someone that is very dear to you after a long time. If you’ve read our piece on international couples separated by global border closures, you’ll know a lot of them are crossing their fingers for their retrouvailles.
Émerveiller means to fill someone with wonder, which is what happens to most people when they hear this beautiful French word pronounced.
This verb means to enchant, bewitch, or cast a spell on someone. Ensorceler wins a prize for being equally spooky and romantic.
The French have quite a few words for the different kind of talk you can do, and jaspiner is one of them. It means to chatter, gab, or gossip. This is one of the most fun words to say on this list and the most fun to imagine. Jaspiner ignites an image of chattering with friends on the outdoor patio of a café in Paris in the 1950s, as the word is a little antiquated.
You probably won’t be using much of saperlipopette if you find yourself in a French-speaking country because this word is a little old fashioned. But, it’s too fun to say not to include! And if you feel inclined to use it during a conversation, it replaces the English “oh my goodness.”