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I want to be able to express in French the following sentiment: That is not noble, that is an atrocity! Machine translators typically produce: Ce n’est pas noble, c’est une atrocité. The problem with that, is that it translates back into English as: It is not noble, it is an atrocity! In English, “that” is used differently to “it”. In the above, “it” is being used descriptively, after the thing being described has already been named earlier, whereas “that” is pointing accusatively at the thing being described. Another example, “It is ridiculous!”, just does not have the same impact as “That, is ridiculous!” and the machine translator is just not picking it up.

So, my question is, how do you do make this distinction in French?

Addendum: Clarification was requested of my intent below, so I have now copied a comment I made into this post and then deleted that comment.

I contributed a track to a Frank Zappa tribute album and it got a mixed response from his fans. I'm a full on composer and use pretty much all genres including what was originally called Musique Concrète. I'm working on a cover version of Zoot Allures at the moment, the title track of the eponymous album, into which I'm injecting a Musique Concrète section. Amidst the craziness, at one point, a character shouts out: "Züt alors! Ça, ce n'est pas Zoot Allures, ça, c'est une atrocité!"

Note that I chose to use French there for two reasons.

1: I just like the sound of that phrase. I am half French, but was prevented from learning French as a child and so my adult grasp of the language is weak, but I have been inspired to learn it after travelling to France several times to visit many of my relatives.

2: It's a nod to Frank Zappa's naming of that composition using a play on words in the first place.

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  • If you want to learn how French works, don't use google translate or the other programs. They don't get the subtleties.
    – Lambie
    May 23 at 20:09
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    Yes @Lambie, indeed, I don't. I use those translators when I'm on the spot to communicate something to, or understand something from, one of my French relatives. My mother was French, but I didn't learn the language growing up. I have many books and have dedicated a little time to learn a little French and when I use a translator, I know enough to correct some of the worst mistakes. I visit many of my relatives in France for a week or two, every couple of years, which is intense, and I just haven't found the time to work on it for a while. This question relates to one of my music projects. May 23 at 22:21
  • Züt and Zoot are completely different sounds.. I fail to hear the humor.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 at 18:32
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    Poetry does not require exact rhyming. I’m doing something here that relates to Zappa’s original joke, which is a simple play on words, with an additional message that certain sycophantic Zappa fans will find my cover version an abomination. Regardless of who thinks it’s funny or not. Aug 2 at 22:29
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Just prepend ça to your sentences to strengthen its subject:

Ça, ce n'est pas noble.

Ça, c'est une atrocité.

Ça, c'est ridicule.

I wouldn't recommend cela est xxx which sounds quite old fashioned as is1. It would work better with a leading que or tout but remains very formal:

Que cela est ridicule.

Tout cela est ridicule.

Or the more literary:

Voilà qui est ridicule.

About the translators, I would recommend DeepL. While its first choice is indeed c'est ridicule, you can also search for alternatives by clicking on the word you want to change, and it suggests many, including the ones I posted.

Beware also that while noble and atrocité look to be obvious translations of "noble" and "atrocity", they might not be the best choice in French. You do not tell the context so we do not know what is not noble and is an atrocity.


Update now the original sentence is known: Züt alors! Ça, ce n'est pas Zoot Allures, ça, c'est une atrocité!

  • Züt alors !: There is no umlaut on zut in French but you can leave it here for the humorous effect it brings.

  • Ça, ce n'est pas Zoot Allures: This sentence uses mixed registers. Ça is standard/informal while ce n'est pas is formal. That'd rather be c'est pas, dropping the ne because your sentence is spoken French.

  • ça, c'est une atrocité: Repeating ça is slightly redundant here and atrocité is rarely used figuratively, I would choose another word here.

Here is then what I would suggest:

Züt alors ! Mais c'est pas Zoot Allures, ça2, c'est une horreur !

See also Is it correct to say "ça c'est..."?

1 While ça is considered the informal version of cela, before the verb être, the intermediary ce is generally used even when the register is formal.
2 Instead of ça, alternate expressions showing the low opinion about what is referred to can be used like ce truc-là, ce machin-là or c't'affaire-là

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    Your addition gives me food for thought. At least you seem to get what I’m trying to do. Aug 2 at 22:22
  • I will fix the umlaut error. I have heard native French speakers say zut and sounds very close to Zoot in English (in this case the reference is to a Zoot suit worn by a hobo). Would the French word abomination work here? Aug 2 at 22:39
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    Zut is somewhat outdated as it used to replace swear words that we are no more hesitant to use nowadays but here, the parallel with Zoot Allures is clearly an effect that deserve its "revival". (Mis)writing züt with a umlaut wouldn't make any pronunciation change. Abomination would certainly better work than atrocité.
    – jlliagre
    Aug 2 at 23:25
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That is not noble, it's an atrocity.

Cela n'est pas noble, c'est une atrocité. Cela is formal.

Ça is informal: Ça n'est pas noble, c'est une atrocité.

"That" in English here is: deictic, it refers to what someone has said or to a situation.

  • That is ridiculous. Cela est ridicule. [formal]
  • Ça, c'est ridicule. [informal]

I don't know what you mean by "translators" because the ones I know would not use Ce here.

  • Ce n'est pas noble.= This is not noble.

When I say formal, I don't mean over the top. ça is only used in speech.

deictics are always hard for machine translation to grasp.

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  • I’ve edited my question to clarify that I meant machine translators. I also need to decide on an accepted answer. Yours is more complete than the other one, but I need to check a detail. Is “Ça, ce n’est pas noble!” considered to express more emphasis than “Ça n’est pas noble.” and does this distinction carry over to the formal? That is, can one write ‘Cela, ce n’est pas noble!’ for emphasis? In English, the distinction is made with tone of voice in speech and using an exclamation mark in writing. May 24 at 20:37
  • The French when speaking might very well say that. Yes, but it sounds somewhat forced in normal circumstances. You say this is for music. Is it a song?? There would have to be a reason to be that emphatic.
    – Lambie
    May 24 at 20:42
  • @GeoffPointer Well, thanks for all that. I think you can go with the informal one then.
    – Lambie
    May 25 at 14:21
  • I have just deleted my comment here and added the context to, hopefully, improve the OP. Aug 1 at 2:54

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