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Can someone explain the meaning and common usages of this phrase? I hear it often and am not entirely sure I always understand it. Does it mean something like English's “whatever” or “bullshit”? Is it said flippantly? Angrily? I would love to see some examples of situations or usages of the phrase so I can get a better grasp on it.

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Just for the record, it is very often abbreviated in slang or casual contexts (C'est n'imp' ! / Il a fait n'imp'.). –  Romain VALERI Mar 22 '13 at 11:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Bullshit

N'importe quoi can mean Bullshit.

Les poules peuvent voler.
N'importe quoi !

Could be translated in (without sounding as rude as in English in my opinion)

— Chicken can fly.
— Bullshit!

But you can also use it for all wrong

— Tu as fait n'importe quoi!

Meaning

— You did it all wrong!

(Literally “You did whatever randonmly occurred to you”)

Whatever / I don't mind

If you want to use it as whatever or I don't mind, you shall use peu importe or n'importe

Que veux-tu manger ?
Peu importe.

Tu veux t'asseoir devant ou derrière ?
N'importe.

Meaning

— What do you want to eat?
— Whatever.

— Do you want to sit at the rear or at the front?
— I don't mind.

What a nonsense

As suggested by RomainVALERI in the comments, n'importe quoi can also be used for pointing out how nonsensical / shameful something is.

Ils ont réussi à faire de la pub dans les écoles ! C'est n'importe quoi...

which could be translated as

— They managed to put advertising material in schools! What a nonsense...

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The "basic" translation is whatever.

For the more idiomatic use I guess almost literal translations like:

  • Nobody is thinking about what it is like
  • (almost) anything possible
  • Whatever (you can imagine)

can give a hint. Moreover the expression is ueds in a negative way, meaning that someone is making almost all he/she can to achieve his/her worst :)

Some other translation could be

  • All the worst you can think of

even if it is a bit too strong, since "N'importe quoi" can be used also in an ironic/joking context.

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