11

(yes, I know this question already exists: What is "quoi" as an interjection at the end of a sentence? but its talking about quoi in a different context and doesn't fully answer my question)

I just moved to Europe a few weeks ago with my French family and learning French has been super interesting and I love the language.

I've noticed that, especially in sentences where the speaker is in some way, passionate about the subject, they'll sometimes end their sentence with "quoi" and I'm not sure exactly what it means.

For example, my grandmother was talking about the something happenings on the news, and she exclaimed at the end of a long winded rant: "c'est fou, quoi!"

Another example, my cousin was stuck behind an extremely slow driver, and he exclaimed, "allez, quoi!"

Finally, when talking about how absurd the size of a house was, my aunt said, "je sais que elle a deux enfants mais c'est un manoir, quoi"

I've GATHERED from the original question I've linked that its just an interjection used to provide emphasis and that it becomes a verbal tic.... I guess my questions are

  1. What does it mean?
  2. Is it bad if I start using it like that?
  3. Are there any other social rules / connotations about this?
10

That kind of "quoi" is what is called a discourse marker, a particule intended to convey a speaker's attitude to the conversation, or to signal something to the interlocutor. A few other common discourse markers are "et bien" or "dis donc" (they signal surprise or amazement at the utterance or the situation), "hein" (attracts the attention of your interlocutor to your utterance and marks it as important) or "Dis, ..." (attracts attention and informs that a question will follow). In English one could cite "say", "come on" or the Canadian ", eh".

One of the main function of discourse markers is turn-taking: when you're holding a face to face conversation, it's important to signal to your interlocutor that you'll keep going after this sentence, or that you're done and you'd like them to follow up. This avoids speaking over each other and keeps the dialogue flowing.

"Quoi" as a discourse marker is an end of turn signal. It says to your interlocutor that you've said your piece about the subject and that you expect them to answer you and to segue into another subject entirely. That's why you've noticed them at the end of long rants (but that's not necessarily the only place where they'd be used).

As for your questions 2 and 3, it's a normal part of spoken French's grammar and widespread among all socio-economic categories of the population. You shouldn't be shy to use it. On the other hand, discourse markers in general are discouraged in the formal writing tradition of the West, and there's very little use for an end of turn marker in a written essay, so don't use it in writing outside texts and chatrooms.

It is occasionally the object of peevery and accused of being a verbal tic. In my opinion, this mostly reveals the complainer as ignorant of pragmatics and discourse analysis.

EDIT: Another important use of "quoi" is to mark a reformulation, both of one's own speech or of what their interlocutor just said.

  • 3
    It makes me think of the famous/notorious « Non mais, allô quoi ! » that was built up from such markers only. – Stéphane Gimenez Dec 12 '18 at 20:22
  • 1
    @Saint-Jacques Pour "turn-taking" ce sont des termes comme passage ou transfert du tour de parole qui sont généralement utilisés. Pour ce que j'ai appelé ici "end of turn signal", j'ai déjà rencontré "indice de fin du tour de parole". En gros, le français utilise beaucoup de noms modifiés par "de tour de parole" alors que l'anglais utilise très peu "turn of speech" en entier. Googler "tour de parole" + linguistique devrait produire pas mal de résultats sur le sujet. – Eau qui dort Dec 13 '18 at 20:39
  • 1
    Pour "discourse marker", la version francophone de Wikipedia utilise "Marqueur de discours", mais "marqueur discursif" est très utilisé aussi dans la littérature. – Eau qui dort Dec 13 '18 at 20:39
  • J'ai trouvé que c'était trop intéressant pour rester en commentaire et j'ai fait une question avec ça ! N'hésitez pas à y répondre comme vous l'avez fait ici ! Merci ! – user3177 Dec 13 '18 at 21:29
-1

1/ What it's meant to communicate in the examples given is the speaker's state of mind either as relative to the situation eliciting his/her comment or as relative to his/her immediatelty preceding comment.

A)

a/ case "C'est fou, quoi" (as in the question); the speaker is expressing a judgement concerning his/her assertion (c'est fou) and that judgement is that he/she is not quite sure to explain/comprehend really what he/she has witnessed and that the best he/she can come up with in the way of an understanding is "this situation is crazy", the word "quoi" meaning "Qu'est-ce que ça peut être d'autre qu'une histoire de fou?" (What else could it be but crazy?).

b/ case "Allez, quoi!" (as in the question); this occasion for using the interjection "quoi" has to do with the situation; he/she can't accept that people in their cars should be blocking the way because of a legitimate reason (breakdown, rush hour, accident,…) and is insinuating that the reason is rather what would be the drivers' slow reactions. He/she is saying in a way "Qu'est-ce qu'il peut bien y avoir pour arrêter le traffic? Ce n'est pas possible, ils ne conduisent pas comme il faut!" (What can be stopping the traffic? That's not possible, they mustn't be driving their cars properly!)

c/ case "Je sais qu'elle a deux enfants mais c'est un manoir, quoi." (as in the question); This case is of the same type as the preceding one; the situation is that of someone claiming to be entitled to a certain living space on the count of having two children; "quoi" is meant to express the speaker's bafflement at the idea that the space available in a country house should not be sufficient for a family with two children.

B)

The types found in the examples from the question have to do with expressing the speaker's state of mind: surprise, impatience, (even) anger, lack of understanding, … There are at least two other types of situation.

a/ The first one has to do not with expressing feelings but with pointing out to the listener a reasonnable deduction while at the same time mildly appealing to him/her for recognising the legitimacy of this deduction. Often this sort of deduction amounts to reducing a complex process to an apparently simpler one, to reduce an explanation to a simpler one. It means, at least sometimes, "en bref", there being no doubt as to the legitimacy of that locution in both the written and the spoken language. The example below should make the use of "quoi" in the present context clearer.

  • C'est une femme mariée avec trois enfants et qui fait carrière dans l'enseignement; elle n'a pas pris de vacances ces cinq dernières années et elle a obtenu un prix littéraire l'année dernière; elle est très occupée, affairée avec plusieurs associations, du temps pour personne, une femme en pleine réussite, quoi. (…pour personne, en bref une femme en pleine réussite.)

b/ A second case; the speaker wants to express the matter of factness of a situation, it being either a situation that is part of the context or a situation he/she has just related. This case can however sometimes be assimilated to case "B) a/" above; it may be difficult at times to decide which of the two cases is relevant.

  • Ils n'ont plus de chaussures, leurs vêtements sont déchirés, ils sont sales et sans argent, ils vont le ventre vide, il ne leur reste plus qu'à mendier, quoi. (as a matter of fact all they can do is beg)
  • -- Il a des problèmes avec la justice, une pension alimentaire qu'il ne paie pas… Il vient de faire deux mois de prison pour escroquerie et maintenant on le suspecte d'avoir volé une voiture dans son quartier; un de mes amis qui est allé le voir dernièrement a été accueilli par des jurons que toute la rue a pu entendre…
    -- Oui, je vois, un voyou, quoi.

2/ Personally, I wouldn't use that means of expression; it's par excellence a "gimmick" that appeals to lazy minds, feeble minds and generally minds unaware that the shorthand it represents for feelings and positions in a certain range, precludes a real effort at an extraction out of one's own intellect of a verbal identification of the very concepts that are at the root of his/her feelings and thoughts. In other words, this type of use, on top of the tendency for it to be used as a merely empty leitmotive by some speakers, does not help in the way of developping and keeping an intellect agile in the manipulation of concepts nor able of precise unambiguous communications, two qualities that go hand in hand. As an American adage says "use it or loose it.". Of course, there is not always enough time to muster your thoughts and the terms of a "truer" expression, but when so it's probably better to say nothing.

In speaking and in writing, when in an informal enough contexte, the use as in "B)" seems nevertheless tolerable.

3/ I am not aware of a strong taboo concerning this use, except mine in all circumstances. However, I suspect that few will be those that accept it as a standard means of expression in the whole of what is considered serious writing, in other words professional writing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.