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I was talking to a native French girl last month and I told her that after three years of high-school French all I could say was « Bonjour ! », « Je m'appelle {nom} », « Ça va ? » and « Comme ci, comme ça ». She laughed at the last one and said "Do they really teach that? No-one says that!"

I have recently seen in a French workbook published within the last 10 years that « Comme ci, comme ça » is being taught as an appropriate response to « Ça va ? »

Is « Comme ci, comme ça » used by everyone? Has it fallen into disuse? Is it perhaps used more by older people and less by younger people? The girl I was talking to was in her early twenties.

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    Not all English natives are a reference about that language, neither are French natives... Although I don't use it every day with everybody (also, sometimes it's going just fine or really bad :-) ), this doesn't sound outdated. So you can at least keep that in your French knowledge :-) – Laurent S. Feb 19 '16 at 12:46
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"Comme-ci comme ça" is a valid English expression inspired from French and having the same meaning. It may be the reason why it is taught to French learners, as it is a "transparent word".

It's not used much in France, but it is understandable to everyone. If you're looking for other ways to say it, as pointed by Alie you could reply :

  • Couci-couça.
  • Bof.
  • Relativement.
  • Ça pourrait aller mieux.
  • etc.
  • It is a French expression. A bit old IMHO. "Bof" would be the more modern way to say it. – Kii Feb 21 '16 at 9:37
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    In my opinion "Bof" seems rather negative than "Comme si, Comme ça" which is more in-between, through their intended meaning when said. Moreover, the latter seems to suggest one is feeling not good and/or not bad, it is sustainable whatever one has to go through in life. "Bof", on the other hand, doesn't suggest anything good. But that is just my opinion. Also, "Bof" relates very well with "Ça pourrait aller mieux." – cram2208 Feb 26 '16 at 6:31
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We often use "couci-couça" which means the same thing, but I rarely heard the "comme ci, comme ça" expression. So I think this has fallen disuse.

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    It must depends on your age and area. It doesn't sound that old to me. But this is definitively not something you'll hear everyday. – Hakim Feb 18 '16 at 16:06
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As far as spoken language I don't know how to tell, but in printed material it seems as popular as ever despite a dip in usage during the late '90s.

  • If you turn on case insensitivity, « Comme ci, comme ça » (with a capital) has dropped since 1980. This would support a position that says it has declined in usage as a response to « Ça va ? » – CJ Dennis Feb 19 '16 at 0:40
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    @CJDennis: Good point. I had forgotten the capitalisation. And on the face of it what you say makes sense... but it might be stretching a bit, because there are entries like this: books.google.ca/… – Micromégas Feb 19 '16 at 1:19
  • Absolutely! I was very careful to not say "prove". It merely "suggests". – CJ Dennis Feb 19 '16 at 1:23
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It is not only in your workbook; take this dictionary:

[ci]
Fam. [Uniquement en corrélation avec ça et p. oppos. à lui] Ceci.
[...] C.− [Pour donner une réponse approximative] Comme ci comme ça
1. Ni oui ni non; pas trop
2. Tant bien que mal; à peu près
3. [En parlant de la santé] Pas trop bien


[cela]
− [Pour donner une réponse vague, approximative] À peu près
♦ Spéc. Pour répondre à une question sur sa santé (comment ça va ?)
Comme ça. À peu près, pas trop bien.
Comme ci, comme ça (cf. couci-couça). Plutôt mal que bien.

[ Trésor de la langue française informatisé - TLFi, ci, ça, exemples omis ]

Larousse notes it is informal too; but neither mentions vieux or archaïque. Everything is possible within a set group of people, depending on age, region and such. Saying that "noboby" says something is a strong statement, most likely an exaggeration, which one should substantiate. It is not only about language, and one cannot ignore the possibility that less people feel so-so i.e. that more of them feel either very good or very bad; as well as the possibility that people maybe communicate less about how they feel, especially when they don't feel as good as they "should" be.

Generally, the concurrent use of ceci and cela, for more or less indeterminate things for instance, dates from the 15th, even before cela could contract into ça (the pronoun) in the 17th. Later, you have ci, ça or tout ci, tout ça (archaic). That sort of alternating, phonetic interplay on such two similar elements is the gist of what the construction is about. In my opinion comme çi comme ça doesn't feel dated or in disuse in the context you mention, and is certainly not otherwise, which doesn't mean it couldn't be elsewhere, or that it would be my first choice of answer to how are you. Couci-couça, possibly an alteration of the Italian loanword così così under the influence of the former construction, is also possible but feels less natural to me (I also personally pronounce [kusikusa], which doesn't sound the same to me as que si used as an expletive, or que ça expressing some form of suprise; one's mileage may vary, of course.). I might use comme ci comme ça as a fall back answer if someone doesn't understand something more colloquial I would use (pas pire, pas terrible, ça pourrait aller mieux, (juste) de même, mostly Québec French).


Dictionaries don't label it old or anything. It is familiar, it still parses fine by me ; it may or may not be the most usual answer to how are you, depending (is not for me), but is also used elsewhere with the idea of indeterminate approximation.

2

Here in Quebec, Canada, "Comme-ci, comme ça" is still a valid expression used by many people. It really depends on the region, in France they probably don't use it that often, but in Canada, we do.

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    @comethapaxd'ajax Because it is an old expression that stayed in Quebec, because of our isolation and it is not exclusively an answer to how are you?, we may use it as an answer to, for example, how is your meal? and such. – vicbab Feb 21 '16 at 18:56
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    For those who've recommended Couci-couça, you should be aware that this is pronounced "que-ci que-ça". Comme-ci comme-ça is also valid and I believe not uncommon. – Vérace Feb 22 '16 at 4:24
  • @Vérace I am a native french speaker – vicbab Feb 22 '16 at 19:36
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    Les gens que je fréquentais utilisaient la prononciation "que-ci" (&c.) plustôt que "cou-ci" (&c.). Notez bien que la pronunciation du mot "que" est beucouop plus comme le début du mot "comme" (veuillez pardoner le jeu de mots assez lourd). Peut-être ai-je trop généraliser? Je n'ai pas nié l'existance de "couci couça mais tout simplement que les gens ne disent pas "cou" mais "que" malgré l'orthographe (au moins les gens que je fréquentais - Paris, instruits et dans la vingtaine/trentaine). – Vérace Feb 23 '16 at 0:34
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    If parisian twenty-something were the holder of the true and beautiful French... Never heard "Que-ci, Que-ça", always "Couci-couça", even from cultivated people, old school French teachers and so on. To each his own... – MakorDal Feb 24 '16 at 8:17
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I have never heard any French person, wether young or old, using "comme ci, comme ça". The expression exists though, and is understood. From my experience, it is widely known by foreign people learning French, and not only native English speakers; I have heard it in Central Europe too. Fun!

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    You should meet more French people then. I still hear it, on a regular basis. – dda Sep 17 '17 at 12:32
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    @dda Thank you for your advice. I live in France and do meet French people. Perhaps it's region-dependent. – Georg Oct 6 '17 at 21:18

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