French language Faux Pas: «Ce n’est pas Terrible»

In France, there is a phrase that the French use often. «Ce n’est pas terrible» literally translates to, “It’s not terrible” and as simple as it sounds, it is actually a lot more complicated than it seems, because it means the opposite! Simply put, we cannot compare it to our English equivalent. In English, when we say something “Isn’t terrible,” we mean that it’s “pretty good, or, “it’s decent,” or even, “it’s alright!” However, in French, it means the opposite! When you say, «C’est pas terrible,» you are actually saying, “This is awful!” or, “This sucks,” or, “It’s really not that great.”

This is something I have been training my primarily English-speaking/thinking brain to correct when I think and speak in French. When visiting apartments, trying on clothes, describing something I like, such as rent, a piece of furniture or food, I have caught myself saying a variation of, «C’est pas terrible,» or, «C’est pas grave,» or, «C’est pas mal!» Because I because in my brain I believe I am giving a compliment or stating a positive thought by saying, “Oh, the rent is only x amount? That’s not bad at all!” Or, “I was nervous about trying oysters but they’re actually not too bad!” However, when the French hear me describe something as “not bad,” they hear, “The rent is actually not a great price,” or, “These oysters taste bad!”

Overall, it is interesting how languages have their own ways of describing things, and that changes the way our brains think, describe, and see things in the world around us. So,«Ce n’est pas terrible» is one expression I am trying to correct during my nine months here in France.

Stay tuned for more French faux pas to come!



3 thoughts on “French language Faux Pas: «Ce n’est pas Terrible»

  1. Hi there, that one is tricky, isn’t it?? Another French saying that kind of irks me is when the answer to the question is a simple yes or no, but the person responds with a “si tu veux.” Take for example my mother-in-law who was visiting and helping us on our recent move. In the morning, I was making toast for myself and asked her if she’d like a slice. Her response was, “Si tu veux.” (if you want) And I guess I could have taken the easy route and said OK and popped a piece in the toaster, but I said “yes, I do want a piece and have already put one in for myself, but i’m asking you if YOU want a piece. I don’t decide what you eat lol.” I think she got the point. Hahah.

      1. It reminds me of a friend I grew up with. When we were around 9 or 10, her response was always “I don’t care.” Like if my mom would bake cookies, she’d ask if the friend wanted one, and she’d say “I don’t care.” But she really did want one. So my mom would say, “Ok well if you don’t care, I’m not wasting a cookie on you!” and put the cookie tin back in the pantry. Hahah, nothing to do w/French but same type of thing. Just say yes or nol. OK pet peeve list is over. Have a great weekend!

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