Merde ! (good luck wish)

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by agoodeno, Mar 10, 2006.

  1. agoodeno Senior Member

    Oakville, Ontario, Canada
    English - Canada
    In the book "Teach Yourself French Vocabulary" by Noël Saint-Thomas, she (I always thought Noel was a man's name, but apparently not) says

    Good luck:
    The literal translation of this phrase is 'bonne chance'.
    However, it is considered to bring bad luck if one actually says
    it! To wish someone good luck in French, one says 'Merde!' ...!

    I would just like to confirm that this is really done by the French before I start wishing people a friendly « Merde ! ».


    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one.
    See also Bon Courage and
    dire merde (bonne chance).
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2010
  2. Jim69 Senior Member

    Lyon, France
    The explanation is the truth.
    Some superstitious people prefer to say "Je te dis merde!" in place of "Bonne chance".
    Most of the time, they say "Je te dis merde!" more than "merde!" alone.
  3. I-Robin-I

    I-Robin-I Senior Member

    St Andrews
    Scotland - English
    I thought 'merde' was only used in the theatre in the same way as we say 'break a leg'. So its ok in the theatre but not greatly appreciated elsewhere. "Bonne chance" is fine "for good luck" in general.
  4. Jim69 Senior Member

    Lyon, France
    Sometimes, students do the same, actually parent students (or friends) use "je te dis merde" when a student takes an exam (BAC for example).

    But it's true, that the custom comes from theatre.
  5. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    We don't use 'merde' only in the theatre. We can say that for exams mainly. Some people say 'bonne chance' but it happens that the other person doesn't like it and think you hate him.
    So my advice, before any test or exam, say 'merde'
    but if it's more general (you're moving out, ...), you can say 'bonne chance'.
    Personally (but it's because I'm very strange), I never say 'bonne chance' but always say 'bon courage', for which I haven't found a good translation yet.

    And you can say either: 'je te dis 'merde'' or simply 'merde'. (But I have the impression that if you only say 'merde', it's because the 'ordeal' you're facing is just about to happen).
  6. pichade Member

    French, France
    I always say merde, and when sombedy says it to you, you must not reply by thank you!if you do, you're not going to be very lucky!that's the tradition!
  7. sonsinimitables

    sonsinimitables Senior Member

    English, Florida -- USA
    One of my friends told me that saying "Good Luck" in French was sometimes rude. Is he lying? (For the record, he has lied to me before.)

    Context: I wished him luck at his piano lesson. He probably wasn't as prepared as he could have been -- I wrote "Good luck! I'm sure you'll be fine :)." He said he interpreted it along the lines of "Good luck, loser..." (I'm guessing he didn't read my second sentence).

    So, is it actually rude to say "Good luck" (Bonne chance !) ??? I had absolutely no intention of being rude in my message.

    Merci beaucoup!
  8. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    It isn't "rude" but for some people (I'm not superstitious but I never say "good luck"), they think it brings bad luck.
    Before going on stage, don't say "bonne chance" to an actor but "merde" (yes, it does mean "shit").

    Personally I don't like using it for an exam or something because I don't like to think that my future is in the hands of luck but on the contrary, that I can do something.
    And I suppose it's true you can have the impression you're saying:
    "good luck (you're so bad that it's the only thing that can save you)"

    But that's only my (strange) opinion. :)
    Bonne chance avec le français. ;)
  9. Jocaste

    Jocaste Senior Member

    Don't worry about what you told him !!
    It is not rude.
    I think your friend is just a bit too irascible : he had to believe that you were poking fun at his talent as a pianist !
  10. FrançoisXV Senior Member

    Français, France
    not rude, but a double entendre: (même chose avec : bon courage !)
    - I wish you good luck
    - no chance, or it's impossible
    It all depends on how it is said. (or written)
    E.G.: tu penses trouver une voiture d'occasion en bon état à moins de 1000 euros ? bonne chance !
  11. AWhiteFlame Senior Member

    American English; United States of America
    I agree with FrançoisXV. The same can be said for English. It can be used sarcastically, which can be taken as rude.
  12. Nouchka Member

    Rome (Italy)
    French (France)
    "Bonne chance" is not rude at all. Idem for "bon courage". If your friend is a little bit paranoid, yes, he will think that you are sarcastic... but in that case, it should be the same for the nicest word that you could tell him.
  13. Cath.S.

    Cath.S. Senior Member

    Bretagne, France
    français de France
    I agree with Nouchka. Your friend is either paranoid or superstitious, unless he is a superstitious paranoiac. :D

    Il ne faut pas être superstitieux : ça porte malheur, disait toujours mon père, avec un clin d'oeil. ;)
  14. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    Like DearPrudence, I have a French friend who always says in perfect sincerity that he prefers bon courage over bonne chance because it implies personal control instead of dumb luck ;) :D

    PS. DearPrudence, pour un acteur qui monte sur scène, on a bien l'équivalent de merde : "break a leg!"
  15. sonsinimitables

    sonsinimitables Senior Member

    English, Florida -- USA
    Question: Can one write "Merde" in a letter or will people wonder why you just interjected "Shit!" into the middle of the discussion?
  16. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    He he. I don't know. Personally writing it would seem strange to me, even if I do say it ... Let's note that personally, I say "allez, merde" but I don't know if it changes much the incongruity of such a word. :rolleyes:
  17. Librekom

    Librekom Senior Member

    Eindhoven, Netherlands
    L'origine de l'expression "MERDE" pour les acteurs, viens de l'époque ou les spéctateurs se déplaçaient en calèche avec des chevaux.

    Quand on laisse plein de chevaux pendant deux ou trois heures devant un théatre, quand tout est fini, il a y plein de "merde" devant le théatre.

    Dès lors, souhaiter beaucoup de merde à un acteur avant un pièce de théatre équivaut en fait à lui souhaiter que beaucoup de monde vienne voir sa pièce. C'est un peu l'équivalent de "success" en néerlandais.

    Depuis, on a un peu détourné l'expression !
  18. chain-reaction Senior Member

    South of France
    France, french
    An similar expression in English is used in the world of theatre. Professional of the theater say "break a leg !" to each other for good luck. This is a tradition of inversion where it is considered "magical" to say the opposite of what you think for good luck. This kind of practice can be found in most cultures. It aknowledges the fact that the universe has a part of irrationality.
  19. pecoisne Member

    France, French
    Just keep in mind that you want to say "merde" only to someone you know well! It's somewhat unformal, so make sure not to use it with anyone.
  20. Hellowdy Senior Member

    Belgium - French
    I never say "merde" alone, but well "bonne merde" and as someone has already said, you shouldn't answer "thank you" or you'll have bad luck :)

    but it is really colloquial
  21. Blubird607 New Member

    I understand that you are not supposed to respond to "merde" or "bonne merde" with thank what does one respond with?
  22. itka Senior Member

    Nice, France
    Nothing at all, or something neutral like : "on verra bien..."

    It's not used here (south of France). I've never heard it and I would have thought is was somehow offensive ! ... of course, with a foreign accent, I would have thought the person made a mistake !
  23. Already-Seen Senior Member

    French - France
    Can't say I've heard it either... I would find it offensive too thinking I was being called a merde!

    ETA: a variant I've heard "On se dit 'merde' !" when two people are wishing each other good luck.
  24. Perhonorificus

    Perhonorificus Senior Member

    Montréal (Québec)
    Canada, French
    Seeing as though you're from Canada, I should warn you that the use of bonne merde is not advisable over here (scatological jokes might follow). There is nothing wrong with a hearty bonne chance!
  25. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Well, (je te dis) merde is said in Quebec as well, and not always followed by childish jokes... but I have yet to hear bonne merde.

    I however agree with Perho that bonne chance is perfectly fine to translate good luck.

    Actually, I think a closer English equivalent to the French je te dis merde in such context would be break a leg.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2008
  26. alisonp Senior Member

    English - UK
    I believe "merde" is also used in the ballet world in anglophone countries, presumably because so much of ballet uses French anyway.
  27. Méli-mélomane New Member

    French - Acadian
    Another option for those who prefer to leave luck out of it is to say "Bon succès". This might have pleased the touchy piano player.
  28. Librekom

    Librekom Senior Member

    Eindhoven, Netherlands
    thats true but you will heard Bon succès in Switzerland and Canada. In France or Belgium, it will be understood but it will look unfamilar.
  29. Flasqueplasq New Member

    French - Belgium
    I'm student in Belgium and we are used to say "bonne merde" before an exam, but never "merde" alone. In here if you say "merde", people will think you mean "shit".
  30. Lothian Member

    @Librekom : I'm from France, that's certainly why I don't know the "bonne merde" expression.

    In France we would rather say "Merde" alone.
    To summarize this topic, it seems that "Merde" is used in French from France, whereas "Bonne merde" is mostly used in French from Belgium.
  31. Mamat

    Mamat Member

    When someone says "bonne chance" to me, I don't think he considers that I won't succeed... if you really think about it, OK, it seems like "you are a loser, you will succeed only if you are lucky" but for me it is not what I feel.

    I just want to clarify something. "Merde" is a bit familiar so don't use it when you write (or speak) to someone who is not your friend or part of your family. It is not very vulgar but it could be bad taken !
  32. Luisita Member

    E.U./ Español
    Hello all. My very good friends are originally from France and after many years living in the U.S. they have decided to take a job opportunity in Paris. They are having a farewell party at their home with most people in attendance being French. I have offered to bake a cake for the occasion and I would like to write "good luck" on the cake. What should I write on the cake? "bonne chance" "bonne courage" "bonne merde" "Merde!" Not sure how I feel about writing anything "merde" on a cake..... I'm stumped; please help! Thanks in advance. :)
  33. Viobi

    Viobi Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Françoué (standard)
    A softer version : "Tu sais ce que je te dis!"
  34. Luisita Member

    E.U./ Español
    Thanks! Is there a shorter version of "good luck" in French that could go on the cake? One, two words tops?

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