Quoi ma gueule?

Gueule: a word you must know — and not only to get les fruits et légumes moches right.

From the Latin “gula” or “throat,” gueule refers to the mouth of some animals and, but only in slang, to the mouth — or entire face — of men and women. Don’t you dare look Johnny in the eye, ’cause he won’t like it — and makes no bones about saying so. The first lines of his cult single Ma gueule have, since the late ’70s, become a reference — even among veggies.

Quoi ma gueule
Quest-ce quelle a ma gueule
Quelque chose qui ne va pas
Elle ne te revient pas

See? Gueule comes in handy — in fights and all kinds of situations, for the fecund “gula” bore more words, and very common ones as bad as they are: gueuler (to yell — ever heard of Flaubert’s gueuloir?), dégueuler (to puke), engueuler (to scold — better not get those “dé and “en” mixed up!), une engueulade (a fight), dégueulasse (yucky, filthy, unfair), un gueuleton (a big meal), un amuse-gueule (“a tidbit, often tiny, served to keep you happy while waiting for your first course”).

There are more, but enough of a boring vocab list. Let’s stretch some French muscles. Nothing too bendy, just the classic pairing: phrases and their definitions. Les doigts dans le nez!

1. avoir la gueule de bois
2. se fendre la gueule
3. faire la gueule
4. fermer sa gueule
5. pousser une gueulante, un coup de gueule
6. casser la gueule de quelqu’un
7. se foutre de la gueule de quelqu’un
8. se casser la gueule


A. bouder, être mécontent, de mauvaise humeur, contrarié
B. frapper violemment au visage
C. se sentir mal (bouche pâteuse, migraine, mal de tête) suite à un excès d’alcool
D. se fâcher et crier très fort
E. se moquer de quelqu’un, traiter quelqu’un avec mépris, sans respect
F. tomber, faire une chute, et, au sens figuré, subir un échec
G. se taire
H. rire de bon cœur

Alors, ze fingerz in ze noze? No? If stuck up there, check the answers down below.

Now only one more gueule — inescapable, just wait — and no work this time. Une belle gueule is a good-looking guy, and, spelled in one word, a common last name in northern France which Edouard Louis decided to break away from.

“Eddy Bellegueule is the name my parents gave me when I was born. It sounds dramatic, but yes, I wanted to kill him — he wasn’t me, he was the name of a childhood I hated.”

en-finir-avec-eddy-bellegueule

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule Finishing off Eddy Bellegueule — Louis’s debut novel, has been the talk of town since its release in 2014. I read it this summer soon after parting with Anne Elliot and her Captain and, well, the experience came as a shock. Unlike (to say the least) Austen’s characters, the Bellegueule — or any of the folks from Hallencourt, the “provincial hell” Eddy grew up in — were not great company. Un territoire de bouseux racistes, sexistes et homophobes qui se mouchent dans leurs doigts et meurent dalcool et de gangrène.” Why I couldn’t put the book down bears witness to Louis’s singular voice, one that speaks two languages stitched together throughout the story: the narrator’s language bourgeois, normalien — Louis attended la très grande École Normale Supérieure — and the Bellegueule’s vernacular. “Faire du littéraire avec du non-littéraire,” the young writer’s own words, was his biggest challenge — and motive.

I suggest you have a taste of the novel first, then read this interview and finish off your tour with a conversation Louis has with French TV host François Busnel in La Grande Librairie (more on my favorite show later). But, of course, the order is all yours.

Oh! And yes, here are the long-awaited answers: 1-C , 2-H, 3-A, 4-G, 5-D, 6-B, 7-E, 8-F.

— Claire

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2 Responses to “Quoi ma gueule?

  • Merci de fournir des ressources si riches pour me permettre d’entrevoir la vie et la littérature françaises dans un kaléidoscople mis à jour de temps en temps. Je ne peux m’empêcher de cliquer tous les liens qui m’ouvrent aux coeurs de cet artichaut appétissant.

    • Et merci à vous, chère Vivienne, de ces encouragements si délicatement exprimés. Nous en sommes touchées, et espérons que votre appétit sera contagieux.

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