I guess it is a pretty common feeling more or less everyone had at least once: Your boss is talking to you and you think "what would happen if I would just tell him to shut up". Very similar is the feeling of driving on a highway while thinking "what would happen if I would just drive my car into the oncoming traffic?" Or the feeling of standing on the edge of a high building and thinking "what would happen if I'd just jump?".

All these thought have in common that, if actually done their consequences would be more or less self-destructive.

I know there is a French word for this exact kind of feeling but I cannot remember it. It would be great if someone could help me.


The word I was originally looking for is L'appel du vide as mentioned in my answer below. It seems like this is no widly known term (the fact that no native speaker came up with this is the best proof) therefore I accepted the answer idée noir which seems to describe a very similar feeling and is a common phrase.

  • 2
    Note that in your first example, with your boss, you might also describe that as "self-sabotaging" or "undermining yourself" or "shooting yourself in the foot" (to give a few more tracks for translation ideas).
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:18
  • I agree with @LukeSawczak that your first. "boss" example is somewhat different from the other two, both of which I would call (in English) "Thinking/considering the unthinkable."
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:29
  • Thanks for your comment! Since I tried to describe a feeling it might depend on what a certain person actually thinks is "unthinkable". But I see the latter examples are much more drastic and the "boss example" might be bad.
    – dtell
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:33
  • These thoughts can be disturbing. Not only for the one having them. Case in point. :-) Commented Apr 2 at 10:39
  • I would have thought there was a well-known phrase to denote it in English, at least in US English: "the Imp of the Perverse". Baudelaire chose to translate it le démon de la perversité. Commented Apr 11 at 12:26

4 Answers 4


Perhaps you're looking for idée noire

(Figuré) Sentiment de déprime. [wiktionary]

Exemple :

La dépression s’accompagne souvent d’idées noires. Ces idées noires peuvent être liées à la personne elle-même ou à d’autres personnes.

Les idées noires liées à soi-même

La personne se sent dévalorisée, elle a l’impression qu’elle ne vaut rien, qu’elle ne fait que déranger les autres ce qui l’amène à culpabiliser. La tristesse s’y ajoute. La personne pense que la vie n’a plus de sens. Tout cela peut l’amener à se demander si ce ne serait pas mieux qu’elle ne soit plus là. Elle pense au suicide, imagine parfois des scénarios comment finir avec la vie.

Dans certain cas, la personne passe à l’acte, c’est-à-dire qu’elle va faire une tentative de suicide qui malheureusement peut se terminer avec la mort.

Les idées noires liées à d’autres personnes

La personne dépressive peut craindre qu’une catastrophe puisse arriver. Elle peut aussi avoir peur que quelque chose de grave (accident, maladie, décès) peut arriver à une personne de l’entourage.

source : http://www.solvital.fr/depression/symptomes-idees-noires-et-depression.php

  • The idea is very similar I guess but it was not exactly what I was looking for (see my answer below). Thank you anyway!
    – dtell
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:26

The word (more a phrase) I was looking for is L'appel du vide. I found it on a webpage about "words that cannot be translated into another language".

This Wikipedia article defines it as

the urge to engage in a self-destructive behavior during everyday life. Most commonly reported examples include thinking about swerving into oncoming traffic while driving, or feeling the urge to jump off the edge of cliff while overlooking from on.

That's exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for your help anyways!

  • 2
    I created an account just to tell you that unlike "idée noire" which is a common-ish term, "l'appel du vide" is just a literary phrase that was coined once and is never really used anywhere.
    – David G
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 23:21
  • 1
    @DavidG I agree "l'appel du vide" is not used much, but its signification is plain and anybody, I think, would understand what it means quickly. It is thus worth using.
    – Shautieh
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 2:29
  • 2
    @DavidG thanks for your comment. I actually created this account just to ask this question ;) I accepted idée noir but gave a hint to l'appel du vide by editing my question.
    – dtell
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 9:04
  • Maybe "pulsion de mort" too.
    – Destal
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 9:49

Dans la question, le passage à l'acte n'est pas envisagé: les situations décrites sont juste des expériences de pensée.

Sinon, j'aurais proposé pensées suicidaires.


The word you are looking for would be "autodestruction". If you do something that may have so negative effects on you, we would said that you do "autodestruction".

The exact meaning is to destroy yourself, physically or psychologically.

  • No, sorry it's not the word I was looking for. I know because I read a (German) Wikipedia article about it. I think the phrase I mean contains more that one word. To be clear: The feeling I am talking about is in no sense a serious psychological issue but something nearly everybody can relate to.
    – dtell
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 16:58
  • 1
    Sorry, I can't think on anything else at the moment, if I have something else that pop, I'll let you know. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:03

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