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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten French words you’ll never pronounce right

French may be beautiful sounding language - but some of those Gallic words can be a real ordeal for us foreigners to pronounce. Our readers have picked out their most unpronounceable French words. How many can you (confidently) say?

Ten French words you'll never pronounce right
This is what a frog might look like trying to pronounce the French word for frog. Photo: Yamanaka Tamaki/Flickr
We put the shout-out on social media and we were flooded with responses.
 
We gathered what we thought were the best responses and the toughest words – from beginner level to extremely advanced. And a warning: Number ten is really hard.
 
Without further ado:
 
1: Mille-feuille
 

(If you can't get your mouth around the word, get it around the cake instead. Photo: Alpha/Flickr)
 
Fancy some custard slice? Well not if it's mille-feuille, says Facebook fan Deborah Adams Kutch. “It's physically impossible for me to pronounce correctly,” she says. 
 
“I have had more than one session with several obliging patisserie ladies trying to teach me, much to their hilarity.”
 
2. Brouilly
 

(Welcome to Brouilly itself, with some vineyards in the background. Photo: JaHoVil/Flickr)
 
Another item that's top of the unpronounceable list is “Brouilly“, a type of red wine from the area bearing the same name in the Beaujolais region. Lynn Segal on Facebook says: “I don't drink it anymore because I've been laughed at so many times! I can't figure out how to say the B at the front of the mouth and the R at the back.”
 
3. Rouen
 

(Photo: Thomas Hammoudi/Flickr)
 
Another answer that got people talking was “Rouen“, a town in northern France. Iris Weintraub Lachaud says it's hard to pronounce “unless you're a goose”. 
 
But it's not just us foreigners who think it. Facebook follower Onürb Öhn is a Frenchman who describes himself as “nearly Rouen native” – but he says that the town's name “is still a mystery for me to pronounce… rouan, wran, roin, roan, rouen”.

 
4. Bouilloire 
 

(Photo: Cheryl Harvey/Flickr)
 
Tweeter Richard Milne says that “without a doubt” the hardest French word to pronounce for him is bouilloire (which means kettle).
 
“It's got so many vowels/soft sounds that I sound like somebody is strangling me when I say it,” he says. 
 
5. Pneu
 

(Photo: Oriolus/Flickr)
 
Another common response was “pneu“, which means tyre. Ruth Trevanion on Facebook says she “just can't get to grips with that one at all”. That seems like a pun Ruth, and we salute you for it. But you're not alone. A number of people said they couldn't pronounce the word either, with one follower saying it's the “least French sounding French word” they know. 
 
6. Heureuse
 

(Photo: Liz West/Flickr)
 
Yet another common response was “heureuse” (meaning happy). Karen Hermann laments: “It doesn't sound like a word when I say it, it sounds like I'm trying to speak through a piece of gum stuck in my airway.”
 
7. Froid
 

(Photo: Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr)
 

On Facebook, Shelby Marcus Ocana says the toughest for her is the word “froid” (which means cold). And it sounds as if it's that pesky rolled r in the middle that's causing all the problems. 
 
“My kids always crack up when I say “J'ai froid” – they say I pronounce it like “foie” [which means liver].” She then has to endure inevitable series of jokes about foie gras from the little ones, she says.
 
8. Grenouille
 

(What a frog would look like if it tried to say grenouille. Photo: Yamanaka Tamaki/Flickr)
 
This word, which means frog, popped up a lot. In fact, many readers sent in words ending in “ouille”. Jay Fogler on Facebook says the problem with the word grenouille is the complex rolling of the r and the combination of the ou i and ll. Enough to drive you hopping mad!
 
9. L'eau
 

(Photo: Gib3102/Flickr)
 
Catherine Gheribi on Facebook says it's one of the simplest, yet most important words of all that she gets tangled up on.
 
“When I say l'eau – no one ever understands what I mean,” she says. 
 
In fact, she says that even when a waiter asks whether she would like water or wine and she responds “L'eau s'il vous plait” – they still look at her blankly. 
 
“I want to shout 'I DIDN'T SAY DU VIN DID I? – SO IT MUST BE THE OTHER ONE'!!. She says that she's learned to order 'une carafe' now.
 
10. Serrurerie
 

Photo: Susan S/Flickr
 
Brace yourself: The hardest French word to pronounce is the word for locksmith – “serrurerie“. It was the most commonly repeated response. Blogger Polly-Vous Francais even sent us an entire blog entry about the word. 
 
She says: “Forget it. It is not happening. It requires too many mellifluous, throaty French r's in too short a time frame (…) I find that I've barely recuperated from rolling out the first r when the next r and the next r need to come flying out of my tonsils.”
 
With this in mind, we decided to test tourist in Paris to see if they could pronounce the word. Here's how it went:
 

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Spaghettata’

If you like your spaghetti, you'll love the 'spaghettata'.

Italian word of the day: 'Spaghettata'

You may have twirled and chomped your way through enough spaghetti to be ranked up there with the best of them – but if you’ve never lived in Italy, you’ve probably never experienced the spaghettata (‘spag-ett-TAH-tah’).

Garfield Spaghetti GIF - Garfield Spaghetti Pasta GIFs

Is it a party? Is it a meal? The best way we can describe it is as a fun, relaxed spaghetti feast eaten at home with friends.

Informal and often impromptu, a spaghettata typically lasts for several hours involves copious amounts of wine..

Ci ha invitati a casa sua per una spaghettata.
She’s invited us to her place for a spaghettata.

Whereas a traditional Italian meal would have pasta as a first course (primo), followed by a meat or fish secondo, the spaghettata is a meal unto itself.

Pasta is all that’s on the menu, and if you’re coming back for seconds or thirds, pasta is what you’ll get.

party spaghetti GIF by Isola dei Famosi

Because of its humble, cobbled-together nature, a typical spaghettata can be made with the kind of basic ingredients you might find in any Italian kitchen, such as garlic, olive oil and chilli flakes.

If you have Italian friends who are keen to show off their culinary skills, it can be a little more involved and they might want to show off a local or family recipe. In these cases, it can become more like a dinner party – but with multiple helpings of pasta, instead of multiple courses.

You can also expect to see regional or city-based variations on the spaghetti dishes involved. In Bari, for example, you might be invited to someone’s house so they can show off their recipe for spaghetti allassassina: lightly scorched, toasted spaghetti with tomato sauce.

One of the best things about the spaghettata, though, is the lack of rules; the meal’s improvisational origins mean really anything goes, provided you can source it at the last minute or dig it out of your pantry to feed a hungry crowd.

A meal also doesn’t need to be put on at any particular time of day to be a spaghettata: it might be a lunchtime affair, or it might happen on those long, lazy summer evenings and nights – in which case it becomes a spaghettata di mezzanotte (‘midnight spaghettata‘).

Facciamo una bella spaghettata di mezzanotte!
Let’s have a nice late night spaghettata!

While you’d normally have your spaghettata in the company of others, it can occasionally be used to describe a dish you whip up for yourself at the last minute – particularly if you come home after a night out and suddenly realise you’re a bit peckish.

Oddly enough, spaghettata di gelato (‘ice cream spaghettata’) is what Italians call the German dish spaghettieis.

That isn’t a meal consisting entirely of gelato (if only…), but a dessert deliberately designed to look like a plate of pasta, with vanilla ice cream ‘spaghetti’ and red or green ‘sauces’ made of things like berries or pistachio.

Celebration Will GIF

You might think that given how alert Italians often are to the desecration of their culinary traditions, this would have sparked some discontent – but the dish appears to be quite popular in Italy, with numerous Italian websites offering recipes for the dessert (often simply known as spaghetti di gelato).

Maybe it’s that no one can resist a little novelty ice cream – or maybe the laid back associations of the spaghettata simply encourage everyone to be a bit more scialla.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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