Onomatopoeia is the written version of a sound – think ssh, ouch or bang. And like everything else, the rules are a little bit different in French.
The French don’t make a kissing noise or say mwa – they say smack (or even smack smack) for the sound of a soft kiss in French. It’s even the common name for a peck on the lips. “Il m’a fait un smack” (He gave me a peck on the lips, a soft kiss) is a far cry from the English definition of “smack”, as in, to slap.
Paf! – the sound of hitting something (or someone)
In French, a slap (une gifle, une baffe) is accompanied by a big paf! (we say “Et paf, une baffe!”).
Other French sounds for hitting would be vlan, pif (especially when hitting some-one on the nose), pof, tchoc, tchac, bang …
Guili-guili – the sound for tickling
Okay, okay, this isn’t onomatopoeia, but it’s still a good one. While in English you might say tickly tickly or something equally ridiculous, in French it’s the adorable guili-guili. Pronounce this one with a hard G, the u is silent, as in gili-gili.
Ouin-ouin & Areuh-areuh – the sounds to imitate a baby
Similar to how a crying baby makes a wah-wah noise in English, they say ouin-ouin in French, featuring the very nasal sound “in”.
And instead of something like coochy-coo when talking to a cute little tyke, French people say areuh-areuh.
Pan-pan! – the sound of gunfire
It doesn’t sound quite as menacing as the English bang bang ... but pan-pan is in any action comic you’ll pick up in France.
Plouf – the sound of falling into water
You can forget making a splash; in French, it’s a plouf all the way. And the sound for falling on the ground is patatra (rather than whack, or kaboom).
Chut – the sound for shhhh
Next time you’re at a French cinema and you’re being disturbed by a loud popcorn eater, turn and say chut to them. It’s a pretty loud word for a hushing sound, if you consider the T is pronounced, but we can guarantee it’s effective.
Aïe – the sound for pain
Anyone who has ever read a French Asterix comic will have seen this. It’s pronounced just like eye and is often repeated three times: aïe-aïe-aïe! In English, we might say ow or ouch, which you’ll agree are a lot less expressive.
Miam – the French version of yum
French people often show their appreciation for food by humming a mmmm sound, but they’re also very likely to say miam. Worth remembering next time you’re dining with your French mother-in-law.
Beurk – the French sound for yuck
If you’re in France and you’re eating something like an andouillette (intestine sausage), you might say beurk if you felt like being particularly rude. We recommend you don’t put this one into practice too much, perhaps you should stick with miam (above).
Ron-ron – the French sound for sleeping
And lastly, there’s no zzzz for the French, who prefer a gentle ron-ron instead to signify sleeping. If you really roll your R while saying it, you can easily see why they say it.
Camille Chevalier-Karfis is a French language expert and founder of the language site French Today - www.frenchtoday.com