faire tourner en bourrique

For example, this locution is labelled as Populaire, but I don't quite understand how words and locutions in Populaire differ from those in Familier or Argot. I thought that all these three mean they are used casually, but is there more concrete difference?

Is the Populaire "faire tourner en bourrique" supposed to be used by what kind of people or in what kind of situation?

3 Answers 3


Populaire, when it refers to the level of language, means that it is typically used by lower social classes.

Argot denotes a vocabulary used originally by the underworld (in the sense of thieves, prostitutes, etc.). It can be used by other social groups but will still be rated negatively as language used by "bad boys/girls".

Familier means it is a level of language used typically among interlocutors sharing a high level of intimacy (family members, friends), but not in eg. the press, academic writing, professional contexts, etc.

Note that if you compare similar entries in multiple dictionaries, you will see that the border between familier and populaire is rather thin and that a same word can be rated either as familier or popular in different sources (eg the word tronche is rated as populaire by the TLFi and as familier by the Wiktionary).

  • Thank you. So as a non-native university student aged 22, should I avoid using Populaire and Argot words, even among my friends? Should I keep words in these two categories to a knowing-them-but-not-using-them-myself level?
    – Dasshoes
    Jun 17, 2019 at 3:54
  • Feel free to use them with your friends, especially among students, it will not be frowned upon. But refrain to use them if you talk to a professor or university staff (using a populaire word may be seen as weird at best, impolite at worst. Argot is a big no then).
    – Greg
    Jun 17, 2019 at 4:03
  • How about using Familier words to a professor or university staff? And on the other hand, how about using Soutenu and Literale words to a professor or university staff?
    – Dasshoes
    Jun 17, 2019 at 4:10
  • As a rule of thumb, if you are unsure, just stick to "standard" words... It all depends on the context: if you just have an informal, friendly chat after a class, with a professor you know a bit (eg he knows you by your first name), very common and trivial familier words (eg. sous for money) can be ok, but not if you have a more formal academic interaction, eg if you are taking an oral exam with them. Using soutenu or literary words may sound a bit weird in the same informal chat - but definitely not impolite. In an an oral exam, it would definely be ok - it may even impress them !
    – Greg
    Jun 17, 2019 at 4:29
  • So in a French-speaking proficiency exam (speaking in front of interviewers for them to judge my speaking skills), should I avoid using (Familier) (Populaire) (Argot) and just stick to (Standard), occasionally mixing (Soutenu) (Literary)?
    – Dasshoes
    Jun 17, 2019 at 4:40

In French like in English, the formality of a word, or lack of, can and often do evolve during the time. Its popularity too. The TLFi sometimes considers informal what is mainstream today.

In any case, while it is useful to know the various ways to say something in French, it is better to stick the the standard way until you are very familiar with the language level of the variants and you know exactly what levels are expected during a conversation.

A typical word English speaking people have often an issue translating to French is "guy".

Here are various ways to translate it:

  • Un individu : formal
  • Une personne : standard
  • Un monsieur : often familier, child language (m'sieu)
  • Un mec : used to be argot, is now familier
  • Un gonze : argot, outdated
  • Un type : familier
  • Un keum : argot (verlan)

Very often, I have heard foreigners using type or mec (because they have guy which is colloquial in mind) in situations where native speakers won't have used these words but just personne.

I guess this is somewhat similar to a non native English speaker writing I wanna in an e-mail.


To the sound definition of the three terms given in this answer I'll add the following appreciations. First, whether "familier" (informel), "populaire" or "argot" the three registers carry with them a certain degree of vulgarity; ranking in increasing degree of vulgarity we find "familier", "populaire", "argot". Second, one must keep in mind that "argot", if sometimes translated as "slang", does not correspond most of the time to English slang (as this answer clearly allows to make out); "argot" is of a register comparatively more vulgar than "slang", except for what is called "coarse slang" and it is comparatively much less acceptable in French than English slang is in English.

  • 1
    The level of vulgarity is not (necessarily) related to the fact a word is familier, informel or argot. For example bagnole or toubib are argot but not vulgar.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 17, 2019 at 10:37
  • @jlliagre Je ne suis pas d'accord, je pense bien sûr que ces mots sont loin d'être aussi vulgaire que d'autres, il ne sont que légèrement vulgaires et dans certain on pourrait même négliger le côté vulgaire et il ne sont plus que très ordinaires; d'après ma perception « toubib » l'est beaucoup moins que « bagnole » mais il n'en reste pas moins que la neutralité du mot « voiture » a disparu; on émet un jugement sur la chose qu'est la voiture, c'est une chose de peu, plutôt méprisable et ça c'est une notion étrangère à la chose elle-même.
    – LPH
    Jun 17, 2019 at 10:48
  • Mon toubib adore les belles bagnoles... Où se niche la vulgarité ?
    – jlliagre
    Jun 17, 2019 at 21:00
  • @jlliagre Il y a un principe auquel je suis arrivé, que l'on ne mentionne jamais et auquel je crois dur comme fer et c'est qu'un mot n'est jamais ni plus vulgaire ni moins vulgaire que la partie de la population qui l'emploie; il ne peut y avoir dans un mot plus ou moins de vulgarité que ce que les gens qui l'utilisent mettent dedans. La vulgarité dans ces deux mots vient donc du monde qui les utilise, auquel on est exposé dans la vie de tous les jours et dans les œuvres et ouvrages de toutes sortes. C'est là que se niche cette vulgarité et c'est ça qui est difficile à évaluer. (champ 1)
    – LPH
    Jun 17, 2019 at 21:36
  • @jlliagre Vous ne trouvez pas ces mots vulgaires (en fait, je trouve "toubib" presque pas vulgaire), mais il n'y a là qu'une question de variation dans les perceptions individuelles; peu importe que je trouve plus ou moins de vulgarité. Il est certain que vous devez trouver certaines formes vulgaires; choisissez la pire dans cette catégorie et cherchez où se niche la vulgarité; malgré votre conviction et un avis général assez uniforme vous serez dans le même embarras que moi; qu'est-ce qui la fait vulgaire ? Il vous faudra dire autre chose que « C'est l'avis de tout le monde. ». (fin)
    – LPH
    Jun 17, 2019 at 21:36

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