Speaking of swearing

I have a theory.

Mince and punaise are mild versions of merde and putain, in the same way that some people use “sugar” and “Gordon Bennett”.

But it’s only a theory. Does anyone know?

I say “mince” following the advice of a beloved Secretaire who was at our Mairie when we first arrived.

I described a situation. I’m hammering something, taking great care of course… but the hammer slips shatters whatever I was being gentle with and also hurts my hand in the process… now (I asked) what word could I bellow out, to relieve my feelings… what word would not shock Grandmère or little kids (don’t want to teach 'em bad habits…) so not a swearword…

“mince” pronounced by her as “mansss”… and I’ve used it as and when necessary, ever since.
I’ve heard it used by French folk…
as well as some other words I know are “naughty” and for which utterances they usually look at me and splutter apologies… which I gently wave away…


I agree with @stella there. “Mince” is what I generally hear amongst more polite company as a mild equivalent to “damn” or “blast” or the like. I’ve not heard “punaise” used so don’t know. @vero is of course our go-to linguistic expert so I’m sure she’ll let us know (and possibly give other terms to use safely :smiley: )

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Similarly, older people will say “flûte” rather than “zut” in front of the children.
Not that zut is particularly shocking amongst adults, at least I do not think so, but you do not want your kids picking it up.

My missus uses “punaise” more out of desperation or exasperation than in anger. However she now swears more in English when using proper foul-mouthed stuff… When we were still living in the UK it was the other way round :rofl:

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I remember hearing “putain de merde” for the first time several years helping out at a local fête when the then Maire got his finger caught between two crowd barriers. The President of the Committee des Fêtes turned to me and said in perfect English with a big grin on his face “Today, you are learning the beautiful French language.”


I had a young French colleague many years ago who told me that her mother preferred ‘merde’ to ‘mince’ as her expression of mild cursing, but was unable to explain why. I always stuck with the former as it was more akin to what I might say in English!

My neighbour Marie-Paule uses punaise rather than putain, but mercredi instead of merde. :rofl:
Mince too.

When I was working I heard la vache rather frequently. To be honest I do not know what a really serious French swearword would be. Perhaps they were all around me but I didn’t undertsand them. :thinking:

As to swearing in English I almost never do in company but when alone I find I am using it more and more. I think it is a release from my present circumstances rather than the provocation of the moment.

Interesting. Duolingo has mince as ‘thin’. Are they really teaching us naughty words?

Mince isn’t naughty… that’s the point… :wink:

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Yes but sugar means sugar in English but used as a swearword…it doesn’t.
Mince, like mercredi, is a replacement for merde.

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I’m almost disappointed now! :smile:

Crickey! What a topic.

I think ‘mercredi’ is rather a lovely sounding substitute for merde

However,I think the point of expletives is that they ought to be satisfyingly onomatopoeic. For this, few can beat those in Italian. Accompanied by hand (or arm!) gestures. :hear_no_evil:

I don’t use strong swear words myself, I was raised by nuns. Nuns with whacking sticks.

Is that a replacement swear word? :roll_eyes: :rofl:

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Here you go: an adjunct to DL

Actually, I’ve just remembered the French also have some good arm and hand gestures that can be used for swearing without voice. Possibly even more satisfying than words

French ‘flic’ TV programs are a remarkably good source too


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In S Africa even anglophone Capetonians (at least in my circle) prefer to swear in Afrikaans because it’s more expressive, but also demonstrates a certain degree of cultural sensitivity, Whereas after fifteen years of life with me, my OH can now swear quite fluently in English tho’ never in front of anyone but myself and our friends would be surprised by how she addresses the washing machine or the dishwasher (when she hasn’t fully closed the door!)

I regret that lacking !Xhosa and Zulu has prevented me ever identifying other SA swearing except by facial expression. Whereas here in France, I’ve always been amused by how the French press need to coyly re-spell the name of the current Russian dictator.

Lastly, I remember Jean Genet writing that Serbo-Croat was the best language in which to swear because it was the ugliest - but, almost the first word that I learnt in that language - over fifty years ago, was their word for tomato, paradajz, pronounced paradise - and I’d go along with that as a description.

Well that one sounds very strong to me!

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‘Zut’ is about as strong as my French gets.