The F words are not to be feared

by Bernard O'Shea

Time now for the next instalment in my series on Quirky Vocabulary – words that I pick at random from my five Romance language dictionaries simply because they are unusual, or sound great. Words that you can have fun with. They might not always be of practical use, and you probably won’t find them in the run-of-the-mill little language guides designed to help you cope for a short stay in a particular place, but who wants to stick to the run-of-the-mill? I like words and idioms that light up the imagination and put something in a slightly different perspective than English does.

Today we are up to the letter F. Normally I start off by looking at the words in English to see if any trends emerge but there is a whole blog dedicated to F words in English, The Mighty F. It’s often very funny. Take a look then come back here to see good Romance language  F words…


Well pardon me but when I flipped open my big Oxford Hachette French-English dictionary at a random page in the French F section, the first word that caught my eye on the page was fesser, to spank. It was not a word they taught me at school (although the Jesuits there did lots of spanking). In case you think I have a spanking fetish, let me assure you, I don’t. I was just puzzled that the word is so different from the English one. A fess in English is “a wide horizontal band across the center of a heraldic field”. In French, however, les fesses (feminine, by the way) are the buttocks or more colloquially, the bum or butt. As you can imagine, people being what they are, there are many juicy slang expressions linked to this part of the anatomy. Here is a selection from the Oxford Hachette:

  • poser les fesses – to park oneself
  • il y a de la fesse ici – there’s some sexy stuff here!
  • serrer les fesses – to be scared stiff (serrer means to grip or tighten)
  • pousse tes fesses – move over, shove over!
  • attention à tes fesses – watch your step
  • un coup de pied aux fesses – a kick up the backside
  • avoir chaud aux fesses – to have a narrow escape

Other words in the dictionary that caught my eye were farfouiller, to rummage about in, and, ahem, farter, to wax (your skis etc).

When your ski instructor in France commands you to “fartez”, don’t be alarmed. He’s just waxing lyrical.


Romanian friends assure me that their language has many lovely F words, such as frumuseţe and fericire. Well, trust the experts, I say. You can’t go wrong with the knowledge of a native language speaker.

Frumuseţe means beauty or splendour, and there is an expression, Ce frumuseţeWhat a beauty! … I often hear people say that whenever I walk by, haha. The related adjectives are frumos in the masculine form and frumosă in the feminine – very useful if you want to compliment a Romanian on their looks. My dictionary translates tânăr frumos into English as an Adonis (I was one of those in 1979 or thereabouts). Tânăr means a youth or young man.

Fericire means happiness, and the related adjectives fericit and fericită (feminine) are often used when you wish someone a happy something, such as ‘happy Christmas’ … Cracium fericit. Spread the happiness.


I picked the word frente. Not only is it practical, there was an Australian band that named themselves after this word, so its cultural significance has expanded. Frente has many meanings and uses – its dictionary entry is quite lengthy – but basically it means the front, frontal part, face, advanced guard etc, thus is useful when seeking directions. Porta da frente is the front door, banco da frente is a front seat, de trás para frente is backwards and forwards, and para frente means go ahead. In English, when someone is looking for something that is very visible, we say it’s right under your nose, in Portuguese they use ‘in front’ rather than ‘under’ – em frente ao seu nariz. I like this expression too – Saia da minha frenteGet out of my sight!

So, a short musical break from your language studies now. What did Frente! sing? They had one top 10 hit in Australia in 1992, Accidentally Kelly Street, but probably got the most airplay for their acoustic cover of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle.


This language has a lovely word for handkerchief, (head) scarf or tissue: fazzoletto. And un fazzoletto di terra is the equivalent of a patch of land. Another word that caught my eye was frastornare, to daze, befuddle or bewilder. The adjective frastornato (or –nata in the feminine) means dazed, bewildered and also deafened, as un frastuono is a noise or din.


I quite liked fastidiarse, which means to put up with or to grin and bear it, mainly because of the expressions that go with it. No fastidies! – for example – can mean You’re kidding!. And que se fastidie can be translated as that’s his tough luck, or as we sometimes say in English, he can lump it. Fastidiarse is related to the verb fastidiarto annoy, bother, sicken, disgust.

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0 comment

raveca February 10, 2014 - 10:49 am

As always, I had fun reading your post. And I also learned a few interesting new words/expressions. Thank you.
I was very fericită and flattered that you chose the words I suggested in Romanian, and that you linked my blog. Mulţumesc frumos (as some people say for “thank you very much”, instead of “mulţumesc mult”).
As for the French slang, that amused me the most. We also say in Romanian “pousse tes fesses” (miscă-ti fundul), especially to kids, or to someone who protests a lot or can’t seem to make up their mind, but I never imagined that watching your step could have anything to do with any parts of the body except feet or legs. It’s funny how languages of the same origin develop completely different over time.

Bernard O'Shea February 10, 2014 - 11:55 am

Hi, thanks for your feedback, and it was my pleasure to link to your blog. Thanks as always for your insights into Romanian. You are right, too, about the slang generating the most amusement. I find the dictionaries that look at slang and vulgarisms etc are more entertaining, they put a human personality on the language and bring it alive. Still got G-Z to go! Cheers

raveca February 10, 2014 - 5:36 pm

Good luck!


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