Monday, 16 September 2013

Bon - Mon Dieu! Plus Français S'il Vous Plait!

French, Francophile, Paris, Parisian
(photo by Let Ideas Compete)


Adjective. Late 16th century.
[French: see BOON adjective.]

The French (masculine) for 'good', occuring in various phrases used in English.

The French are a funny lot that we love to begrudge: we begrudge them for their culture, their pride, their wine, their cheese, their manners, their football, their cinema and their copious contribution to the English language; we begrudge their cuisine, their art, their Parisian fashion and Paris itself. There is, however, one thing that we can never begrudge the French, and that's their language, a singularly beautiful, romantic, expressive and sensuous language that peels from the lips and melts into soul. Superciliously ignoring French during my school years is one of my greatest regrets, perhaps one that I will one day correct, but for now I will have to make do with some of the most beautiful expressions to have entered into English by way of bon, the French word for 'good'. And being bon, they're all rather delightfully upbeat and happy, which we need sometimes. Here are a select few of the loveliest bon words:

bon appétit
[literally 'good appetite']
Used as a salutation to a person about to eat.

bon enfant
[lit. 'good child']
Good company.

bon gré mal gré
[lit. 'good will, ill will']
(Whether) willingly or unwillingly.

bon mot
[lit. 'good word']
A clever or witty remark, a witticism.

bon ton
[lit. 'good tone']
The fashionable world; archaic good breeding.

bon vivant
[lit. 'who lives well']
A gourmand, an epicure.

bon viveur
[pseudo-French after bon vivant, from viveur a living person]
A person who lives luxuriously.

bon voyage
[lit. 'pleasant journey']
Used as a salutation to a person about to travel.

France, French, Paris, Parisian
Even Parisian statues get fed up with how damn cool everything is
(photo by Moyan Brenn)

Do you use any of the above expressions?

Do you have any other favourites?

Please leave your most Francophilic comments below. Merci!


  1. There's also BCBG - bon chic, bon genre - something we used to say a lot in secondary school. I don't know why, we just learned the expression in French class and all of a sudden everything was trop BCBG.

    1. BCBG - I love it! And I just learned 'bobo' from your link too ... cheers Bibi.

    2. Someone should've linked to bobo when you did bohemian :)

    3. There's still time, Bilocating Bumblebee Bobo Bibi!

  2. This is a true story.

    I had a friend many years ago. When we met a French girl, my ice-breaker was 'The only French I know is Je suis un canard' which succinctly explained that I am a duck. If she laughed, she was the kind of French girl we wanted to meet. If not, it was awkward for a few minutes.

    One evening, fairly recently, he sent me a brief text saying 'I'm going to kill you.'

    He had been asked to be the best man for a friend who was marrying a Swiss girl, the wedding being in Switzerland, the audience by majority being French-speakers. He decided to open his best-man speech with the legendary 'the only French I know is je suis un canard', however he failed to give quite enough punch to the final 'd' in canard and so instead managed to open his speech with something which translates roughly to 'I am someone of quite questionable personal habits,' although the strict translation is somewhat more descriptive.

    -je n'ais pas la clue.

    1. "I'm a duck" is a novel chat-up line. Tell me: did it yield any results? What would you say was the success to humiliating failure ratio?

      *takes notes*

    2. It was all water off a .....well, I suppose you knew that was coming.


  3. I took french from grade 1 until the end of grade 10, and I must say I know very little french. I can ask if I am allowed to go to the bathroom. I can count relatively high. I know the days of the week and the months of the year. I can even carry on small talk including saying hello, introducing myself, asking how you are, and responding how I am. I can also talk about colours and basic objects, among a few other things. Ten years of french really didn't do much.
    I am disappointed I cannot do more!

    1. I think that's pretty much enough to work out what's going on in a conversation. I have about the same grasp of Finnish and am able to piece together the gist of a chat between my wife and her sisters.

      I can't ask if I'm allowed to go to the bathroom yet though, which has led to a few mishaps and heated family discussions on, well, 'inane foreign chimps' I think.


    2. That seems a little harsh on chimps which, if my understanding gleaned from TV is correct, have the good sense to put on nappies when they're in polite human company.

    3. Indeed, poor chimps.
      You must have a more workable grasp of Finnish. I'd need French companions to speak rather slow to catch much of a conversation. You truly should learn how to ask permission to use the bathroom though and prevent further tragic conversations and the sullying of the good chimpanzee name, especially foreign ones.

  4. My sister and i both had the same French teacher (one of the best teachers I've ever had) and she used to always clear her throat in a funny way and then say "Ah bon". You knew when she said it that she either wasn't very impressed or it was time for a subject change.

    1. All of my French teachers were terrible, but I was a terrible French student, so we were probably well matched.