I just learned the other day (from Expressio) about the phrase:

avoir les boules.

They gave its meaning as "Être très énervé. En avoir assez. Avoir peur.". As in,

Le cartel a les boules car ils ont perdu le respect.

However, the French sounds so similar to a the word-for-word translation which is 'to have the balls'. In English this means 'to have the audacity, to be brave', where 'balls' is being used as slang for testicles, presumably a sign of masculinity.

You don't have the balls to fight that bully.

Reverso translates from English to French:

Do you have the balls?


Tu as les balles ?

(notice 'balles' but not 'boules').

Since I am an American English speaker, I am used to the 'balls = courage' metaphor, but I don't see the metaphor in French. Is 'les boules' slang for something else (other than testicles) or is it referring to gonads (to be clinical about it) by a different metaphor that yields something less aggressive, or have I mistranslated a false friend?


1 Answer 1


Don't confuse avoir les boules (because of sth) and avoir les couilles (to do sth).

The latter matches to have the balls / the guts.

In the former one, the boules are more the glandes (the expression avoir les glandes exists too).

Despite being originally the same balls we were referring to earlier, these glandes/boules are generally understood nowadays to be the ganglia or the tonsils (on each top sides of the neck).

Someone who a les boules is annoyed, upset, worried, scared, frustrated because of something unpleasant has happened or is feared.

On the other hand (no pun intended ;-) ), Reverso translation "tu as les balles ?" would only make sense on a tennis court, a golf course, or similar ;-)

  • 1
    Thanks. That last thing you say about 'tu as les balles' is why we ask on SE rather than trust even authoritative translation services or dictionaries.
    – Mitch
    Feb 11, 2019 at 15:18
  • 3
    ...and watch out, in Canadian French, les boules as a body part mean "boobs", not "balls" !
    – Greg
    Feb 11, 2019 at 16:14
  • 4
    @Greg not to mention the gosses ;-)
    – jlliagre
    Feb 11, 2019 at 16:22
  • 4
    One also often makes a gripping move on the neck to show that they really ont les boules
    – WoJ
    Feb 11, 2019 at 20:25
  • 1
    I would also add a bit scared to the list of meanings (j'ai rendu mon contrôle mais j'ai les boules (j'ai peur d'avoir raté)). Excellent answer BTW (+1)
    – WoJ
    Feb 12, 2019 at 8:14

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