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Somehow bon marché and économique sound positive to me, as some kind of praise. In English cheap has a connotation of not good. It can be used for an expensive thing but not well made. Am I just mistaken in my impression of bon marché, or does it really differ in French and English?

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It seems to be that a good translation into English for bon marché would be "a bargain". – Jez Oct 14 '12 at 20:15
@Jez: I don't think so, a bargain would be closer to une (bonne) affaire, or maybe to un (bon) marché like in “nous avons conclu un (bon) marché”, but as a noun, not as an adjective. – Stéphane Gimenez Oct 15 '12 at 11:44
I would be actually interested to know how to convey meaning of English 'cheap' in French... – farfareast Oct 15 '12 at 16:48
@Denis: I think premier prix or bas de gamme could be used for that. – Stéphane Gimenez Oct 15 '12 at 19:17
Je trouve un proverbe sur set sujet aussi "Bon marché tire agent de bourse" c'ai été interesant pour moi. – Mohammad Rafiee Oct 21 '12 at 6:06
up vote 12 down vote accepted

You're right. Neither bon marché nor économique are used in the same way as cheap is used to belittle the quality of the goods. Économique definitely has a connotation of praise, maybe bon marché less so but neither is used in a deprecatory way.

Remember though that these words are not really interchangeable.

When you use économique you are implicitly saying there are more expensive ways of spending your money. The point of view is that of the content of your purse. Économique is used in the same way as the English "economical".

Bon marché is used to qualify the price of the goods. And of course if you buy something that is bon marché it is économique for your purse.

Bon marché originally was à bon marché (1171) (meaning you are making a good deal).

By the way, Le Bon Marché was the first French department store.

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Annnnnd that's an impressive answer, (sometimes I just wish I was 50 years older to know my mothertongue). Thanks for all the details I knew I couldn't explicit >_<' (Btw, could the original (à) bon marché be rather the marketplace than the deal ?) – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 13 '12 at 7:30
@LeVieuxGildas : Le mot « marché » vient du latin mercatus qui désigne une transaction commerciale. Mais il a d'abord désigné en français une réunion de vendeurs et d'acheteurs et c'est par métonymie que ça a désigné ensuite le lieu où se tient cette réunion et la négociation commerciale en elle-même. Je pense personnellement que quand on dit « à bon marché » on parle plus de la transaction commerciale que du lieu. – Laure Oct 13 '12 at 10:27
@LaVieuxGildas and Laure: Merci. Maintenant, j'ai la confirmation de mon hypothèse. – farfareast Oct 13 '12 at 19:35

In my mind, bon marché is indeed much more of a praise in French as is 'cheap' in English. You still get what you pay for, but the emphasis is on the money you save, rather than on the poor quality of what you get. The same stands for économique.

As you mention it yourself, 'cheap' can be used to describe sheer quality, whatever the price may be, whereas économique cannot be used in that sense.

That being said, I'd probably use bon marché to translate 'a poor man's (something)' (and I'm not sure what consequences it has :)

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