Jean Dujardin: "Putain!" Yes, That Means "Whore."

Categories: Media

SF Weekly does not aspire to be the outlet for Oscar-related tidbits. But, amazingly, it turns out we have to be. Whether through sheer ignorance, outright prudery, or a little from both columns, no major American Oscar recap we could find bothered to reveal what Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin said when he blurted out a stream of rapid French to end his speech.

The actor and his colleagues won big for the silent fable The Artist. Yet as soon as these French-speakers actually begin speaking, it seems we don't care what they say -- or, in several writeups, the most jarring part of Dujardin's outburst was simply omitted.

Dujardin's quote, verbatim: "If George Valentin could speak, he'd say 'WOW! PUTAIN! GENIAL! MERCI! FORMIDABLE!'"

A rough translation: "WOW! SON OF A BITCH! GREAT! THANK YOU! WONDERFUL!"

But let's focus on "putain." Because, literally, that means "whore."

"Putain" is a most flexible word. If you drop a heavy object on your foot, you shout it. If the light turns red while you're in a hurry, you utter it between clenched teeth. If someone hands you an unexpected check or your team pulls off a last-second win, it applies as well. And it's also suitable, apparently, for an Oscar speech.

"Putain" is also a generational divide. The Frenchmen with memories of American soldiers handing out sticks of chewing gum will likely say "merde" when thrilled or upset. Their children talk like Jean Dujardin.

It isn't like French is some manner of secret code -- whole continents full of people speak it and you can learn it from books or junior college night courses. So it's odd that a man joyously shouting "WHORE!" in front of a billion television viewers largely went unmentioned -- or simply edited out of existence -- by the English-language press.

Not so across the Atlantic. More than a few headlines simply recapitulate Dujardin's speech.

That's better. Like it or not, you shouldn't pretend it didn't happen. 

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55 comments
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cmd10r
cmd10r

In the sense in which he used it Putain means like "shit" or "fuck". It's an expression of amazement. Really Americans, learn your shit before you publish it. 

Alinda
Alinda

It's how he meant to use the word and it was meant as fuck so that's the point.

Jb
Jb

For something positive, putain just work as an underliner to the following word to show its strenght. Usually an american will use a reference to god like "omg" or "god gracious" or "mother of god" but reference to god are really seen badly in france; you force your beliefs on others. its an heritage from the last 2 centuries ; enlightment, revolution, republic, atheism, separation  state/church, communism, labor forces militantism etcFor something negative putain means crapPutain is also used to show a surprise and you need 2 secondes to understand the situation before you  say somethingIn south france putain is used as a ponctuation to show you just end a sentence

the best translation of dujardin's "putain" for an american audience should be "mother of god" or just omg. its not a bad word for an american but as a french i heard it as an insult each time an american say it

Savvysearch
Savvysearch

It's more nuanced than that. Did SF Weekly get their research from wikipedia again? 

Unoloquito
Unoloquito

the critic in this article certainly shows his lock of knowledge in the cultural difference between the french and the americans. I am sure, that when an english speaking person takes the stage and "farts", this idiotic of a critic is one of those that is all smiles and giggles, even applauds. :)

Unoloquito
Unoloquito

the critic in this article certainly shows his lock in the cultural difference between the french and the americans.  In anyway, when a speaking person takes the stage and "farts", I am sure the critic is one of those that is all smiles and giggles, even applaud.  :)

dje2801
dje2801

Hi everyone. Let's leave it at that. It's clear right now that we might be arguing during ages about the perception of the words "putain" people have across the atlantic, although doing our best to make american folks understand the contextual notion of such a word. There is nothing more stupid than keeping challenging about the 5 seconds during which Jean Dujardin let himself go to yell his deep joy out. He's been true and honest since the beginning of his career, let's not blame him for that once he reached it's top.Jean Dujardin est un putain d'acteur, y'a pas d'autres mots =).

Tibtak
Tibtak

"Putain" does not mean "whore" but MEANT "whore", during the 19th century. Now we are in the 21th and the French language has evolve.

In that case, "putain" is a synonym of "wow". It just means that he is excited. Nobody has been shocked by this word in France. Everybody use it 20th time a day.

If Americans want to know more about that word, they can watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Dev
Dev

Don't know why my comment does not appear here, maybe because it includes a link to a very relevant youtube video and was treated as spam, let's try posting again as it's a video of an American living in Paris explaining the meaning of putain, and it's dead on (1 Million views btw):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Missbilboquet
Missbilboquet

Hello from France !

So... I really like Jean Dujardin, I really like France, and I am from southern France, where people always say "Putain". You can say anything you want Joe Eskenazi, you're not French and you don't really know how to use "putain". If you look at up in the dictionary, yes, "putain" can means "whore" BUT, no one talks that way in France, actually if you want say "whore" you have to say "pute" (THAT is a really bad word^^).So, yes, "putain" was an insult ... long time ago. Now, that's just a word french people use every day... Jean Dujardin said it because he was so glad to have the Oscar, and so proud.... he said it because everyone in France does, that's all.So, vive la france, vive Jean Dujardin, et vive les Oscars putain !!! 

Guest
Guest

I am french too.

Please refer to Kate' posts, as I think she'd already said everything that should be said about the OP misinterpretation of the Dujardin's "putain" real meaning.

I would like to add that the word "putain", in France, is still used with the meaning of "whore". Of course it is : this is what it means, originally.But, if you have to speak about men or women ("putain" is not gender related, even if the word itself is feminine), you'd certainly choose the word for prostitute : "prostituée".

Dillinger
Dillinger

When you don't know something, don't right shit about it! Literally, "Putain" means Fuck ! So he didn't say anything wrong, he was so happy & grateful, he didn't want to say " whore" so back off, you jealous americans!

Gfagaga
Gfagaga

Putain doesn't mean whore...u wrong this thing is ingnorant whore for sure...

finette
finette

I see the argument going on below, but you're still doing better than this Telegraph article, which (1) misidentified the word in question and (2) gave two wildly different definitions of that (wrong) word.

Bordel de merde.www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/fi...

Nico Dupuy
Nico Dupuy

I'm French and I can affirm you that in this context "Putain" does not mean "whore". Anyway the word "putain" is not used anymore nowadays to name a "whore". We use the word "pute". It's just a big joy manifestation ... I and most a French speaking people (Belgium, Switzerland and Quebec included) say "putain" many times per day ! (lol) In some regions of France (South) the word "putain" is nearly used as ponctuation (only when we speak I mean).

Guyonearth
Guyonearth

Yes Nico, u're right!All this is so funny because j.dujardin is one of the most correct guy in the world.So we just have to stop doing like if we were all perfect and then close this review..putain!

Dguilebot
Dguilebot

Some people might wonder how to say a loose girl in french, as putain doesn't seem to mean that anymore. In french you would say "fille facille" or "fille de petite vertue" if you feel like speaking like a king :) anyway, "pute" means whore, bitch or prostitute.PS: if he was Slovak ( Slovakia is a country between Poland and Hungary) he would have yelled " do piče"wich literally means "to the pussy" but actually means "fucks", "crap", "shoot", "bloody hell".

Pascale
Pascale

Joe, I wonder what you would have understood if he had said the much more polite "purée". American "journalist" (frankly there are so many more serious subjects to care about) wondering why an Oscar-winning actor is talking about mashed potatoes...  It's OK to kill people every 2 seconds on TV but please don't swear. How hypocritical.

Martin Blanc
Martin Blanc

It is a also a word very often use by EVERYONE in France to emphasize an exclamation. It has nothing to do with "whore". Most of the people forgot it means that and use it just as common language. An in a moment like that, I totally understand he used it.

KMW
KMW

I saw Jean Dujardin interviewed and asked what he said.  He basically said that the equivilent word in English began with an "F" and his mother was not happy that he said it.

Jean dujardin
Jean dujardin

You made a mistake, "putain" mean "suck my dick hey fat pussy smoker"...

Grelobolotus
Grelobolotus

sorry but I do not agree with Naonedad and Joe either. I am too a native french speaker and even though it's true that "putain" DOES refer to slut, whore, etc... it's clearly not what Jean Dujardin means here no ? I doubt very much that he'd use that word, in a clearly sexual reference in front of the Academy and furthermore in front of his wife...

It's true that using that word was pretty much frowned upon when i was growing up and during the 80's, that word actually lost its former meaning during the 90's. It IS merely used as "fuck"/"awesome" and in France, even though it's kinda sad, it's often just like punctuation.

and i am sorry Naonedad but "enfant de putain" seriously ??? Time warp ? 

on a lighter note, here is a wonderful way to demonstrate the use of that word :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Purée
Purée

I happen to be a native French speaker with a special interest in translation at the same time, and in a way, you are right, Joe, literally, putain means whore... BUT, who translates literally ? Nevertheless, in my opinion, you are as right or should I say as wrong as people saying that putain is an equivalent of fuck. Because there is a huge difference between the F word, which is very offensive and the P. word, which as someone mentioned earlier, is used as some kind of punctuation and as a way to begin every single sentence among younger people, including well educated ones (well... it's been like this for so long that people well in their 50's should be included in the younger generation in question). Therefore, the use of the P word is a complete non event and I wouldn't consider the fact that it's been played down by journalist as any kind a censure but as an understanding of what it really means and a way not to offense people like you who might, wrongly, take it badly.

See this excellent video that explains it all :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Remember? Magical word that could be used in every situation ? Literally it means whore, but non-literally it means... nothing.

After using it extensively and noticing that it might become a problem for my children who had difficulty understanding that the F word was not as welcome in the anglos world, I have one day decided to replace it by Purée. Yes, literally it means mashed potatoes. Non literally... it's just a way of beginning just about every sentence. I made this decision not because putain was in any way offensive in French, but because my then 5 year old struggling with three languages was having difficulties adjusting to the richness of a non-literal translation.

nineteeneightyfour
nineteeneightyfour

Who cares about the excited Dujardin letting out a French curse word on the same show where Billy Crystal wore blackface?

Inho299
Inho299

Once for all Joe, we use "putain" for :-emphasize something-when we're happy-when we're unhappy-when we're surprised-when we hurt ourselves-actually for pretty much everything, and a hundred times a day And I don't care what "le petit robert" or "the highest authorities on the French language" say, nowadays nobody says "putain" to describe a loose woman anymore. So yes it's a "bad" word, but you decently can't translate it with "whore" even if the first meaning of the word WAS whore. And I think that if the point of your article was to say that nobody bothered to translate his words, the least you could do is to translate them correctly. It seems that everybody in the comments tell you the same thing, and it seems that a lot are actual french (and so am I), so you could believe us..... I don't care about Dujardin winning or not, I'm not defending him, I'm just telling you that you didn't translate it properly, no matter your "formidable base of knowledge on the matter". Obviously no french people in this base. So YES you are right, it originally refers to a "whore", but NOBODY uses it like this anymore.And good night, because in France it's getting really late.

Naonedad
Naonedad

I am also a French native speaker and I also definitely use "Putain" for whore, like in "Enfant de putain" to explain to someone how little I think of him.

So, please... maybe you use "Putain" as punctuation even in public (not your fault if your parents didn't do their job well) but it's not the case everywhere in France - and yes, teachers from where I come from will expell you if you say it during class time.

"Fuck" is a pretty explicit term too in English, and even if people using it don't want an immediate sexual intercourse, they're all aware of what it means originally. So, please fellow French speaker, have the honesty of admitting it for "Putain".

It's like when I say "Bordel" or "Merde". It doesn't mean I want to open a brothel or take a crap, but it CLEARLY refers to it BY DEFINITION and I wouldn't say that on TV in front of millions of people, or at work or in public. And I think that's what is more important in this article, rather than knowing what Dujardin was meaning.

Elizabeth Favorito
Elizabeth Favorito

I think people assume that putain means f*ck because they are used in the same way as exclamatives in their respective languages.  So when an American drops a hammer on their foot they yell f*ck and a Frenchman would yell putain... but that is not at all what it means.  Like the author states, it used to refer to a prostitute (which is now referred to as "une pute").  Saying putain is not offensive like saying f*ck is.  In the United States, if my student says f*ck he gets in trouble, maybe detention if he uses it a lot.  In France, where teachers are very strict about the tone of language (ie being formal with teachers), the teacher I worked with would not blink an eye when a student muttered "ah putain" after dropping a pencil.

We use f*ck as an example of how putain can be used, but they do not 100% at all mean the same thing.

Marine
Marine

C'est officiel,les Ricains sont atteints !!

Marine
Marine

C'est officiel, les Ricains sont vraiment atteints.

Kate
Kate

This post just shows, once again, how ignorant Americans are when it comes to languages other than English. It appears that the writer just googled "putain," then went on to pontificate about it incorrectly. Also, for a writer who should know better, he has no concept of using words in context. The comment about Jean Dujardin yelling, "WHORE!," is laughable, but cringe-worthy.This is internet journalism at its most awkward. Joe, talk to some real French speakers before you embarass yourself.

Joe Eskenazi
Joe Eskenazi

 Kate --

Sigh. Sadly, it would appear a rudimentary Google search far outstrips whatever thought you put into the above post.

Without revealing unnecessary personal details, let's just say I am operating from a formidable base of knowledge on the matter that goes beyond books or internet searches.

I think my description of the literal and applicable meanings of the word "putain" are accurate -- and certainly more accurate than your description of my description!

Best,

JE

Kate
Kate

Joe: A rudimentary Google search for "putain" simply shows the fallacy of relying on Internet sources to understand common, current language use without considering the context. Like your post, most web sources emphasize the word's use as a translation for whore, loose woman, slut, etc. Your post is no more edifying than those sources.

As a journalist, I'm sure you're kkeenly aware that language is in a constant state of flux. Dictionnaries commit words to paper after which those words are locked in time. This is especially true of slang and street talk. Referencing "the highest authorities on the French language" doesn't hold much water with street talk. That's where your argument unravels and where you show a disconnect with the world of foreign languages.

Forget the academics, the 12th century etymologies. Listen to the native French speakers commenting here. Those are your authorities for street French. Listen to those who drive the car, not those who want to maintain textbooks on car engineering and history.

I don't know what your formidable base of knowledge consists of, but it doesn't seem to include what it needs the most here - a better real world connection.

Who's right here? Let the French weigh in. It's their language, not ours.

Mathieu
Mathieu

Kate, you're brilliant. You said it all.

elle
elle

putain means fuck, not whore. this inaccurate article makes the front page?come on folks. do your research.

Joe Eskenazi
Joe Eskenazi

 Elle --

According to my copy of Le Petit Robert, the etymology of "putain" can be traced back to the 12th century. It means "whore," or, essentially, "loose woman." So you'll have to take up your argument with the highest authorities on the French language.

I think it is substantively incorrect to say "putain means fuck." It is generally not a term that could be used as a verb to coarsely describe sex. Yes, cette putain voiture could be accurately translated as "that fucking car" -- but we've wandered off into the weeds.

Jean Dujardin shouted a word with centuries-old derivations meaning "whore"; in comman usage it could substitute for "fuck." C'est marche, more power to him and congratulations. But the point of this article, again, was that American recaps either neglected to bother translating his words, or bowdlerized them. That shows laziness or priggishness.

Best,

JE

DDD
DDD

Joe, as others have pointed out, "Putain" may have originally meant "whore", as in "cette femme est une putain" = "this woman is a whore". In US english, "fuck" means "to have sexual intercourse" as in "He fucked her all night".

However, it would be entirely wrong to state that "This is fucking great" means "This is a great sexual intercourse" or something like that. Just in the same way, Dujardin's "Putain, génial" cannot legitimately be translated as "Whore! Wonderful", irrespective of what some uneducated reading of your Petit Robert may make you believe.

Elle's translation is much better, in the sense that what Dujardin said is much closer to "It's fucking great". However, as a native French speaker, let me offer you another translation, which is that "Putain" means "God gracious" in that case. As in "Wow! God gracious! Thank you! Wonderful!" And in saying so, I am much less wrong than the title of this article.

Nico Dupuy
Nico Dupuy

Come to France and you'll see that French speaking people say "putain" very often ! If an American guy says "f*ck !", we understand "Putain !" or "Merde !" So when we say "Putain !" in a spontaneous manifestation of joy, just undersatnd "F*ck !" ...

Kate
Kate

Joe, seriously, forget the 12th century. We're not talking about word origins or derivations, we're talking about how a word is used by French native speakers in 2012. Are you blind to the comments they've made to you here?

Yes - corroborated by Google translate - putain can be translated as whore, or other derivations (e.g. loose woman, call girl, etc.). But Google Translate is notoriously limited when it comes to language as used in the real world. And by the way, the highest authority of the French language, the esteemed Académie française, has lost its grip as the arbiter of current French. Forget that old group of farts or official dictionaries for purposes of this discussion.

And what do you mean by "C'est marche"? Native speakers, please correct me if I'm wrong, but this makes absolutely no sense to me in French. Joe, please, stick to what you know or at least run this stuff by real French people.

With all due respect to your journalism chops, Joe, I think you're out of your league on this one. Your post just reinforces the stereotype of most native Americans being like fish out of water when it comes to foreign languages. You do have a point about Jean Dujardin's outburst not making mainstream media's radar screen; you'd be better off yourself sticking to that discussion. The more you backpedal, the more awkward you look.

Inho299
Inho299

And for the rest also by the way.

Inho299
Inho299

"Native speakers, please correct me if I'm wrong, but this makes absolutely no sense to me in French" ==>>> no correction needed, you're right ;)

Preston "bodie" Broadus
Preston "bodie" Broadus

I'm french and in that case it means "fuck". Inho299 is right. It's really common in france .we can say it when something annoy us as well.

Frenchteacher
Frenchteacher

 joe ...you d best study the french language before to say bullshit.Putain mean "Fuck" that s all.It was great, jean Dujardin will have a fantastic career in us.He s a fabulous actor

Kristy
Kristy

Let's not forget that south of France "putain" is used almost as punctuation it is the equivalent of "like"

toulouse
toulouse

I'm french too and I'm from a southern city of France where "putain" must be pronounced billions of times every day... And I swear that in my own mouth I never meant to hurt or to insult anybody when I was using this word... It is just, as Kristy said, a sort of punctuation we use all the time to express any kind of emotion!!!

Babette
Babette

 I lived in Toulouse for a while, and I totally agree.  It was a word that I heard every day, and while it was obviously not a "nice" word, it wasn't offensive per se.  I would say it's kind of like saying "crap" in English...as a punctuation, showing mild surprise, not at all meaning the literal definition of "crap" as such.

Joe Eskenazi
Joe Eskenazi

 Hello all --

We can quibble about translations -- and let's do that in a second. The larger part of this article was that every American article I can find either ignores or actively edits out the fact a man shouted "putain!" in front of the world's largest audience. This isn't a criticism of Jean Dujardin, but those too incurious or prudish to report on what he did.

As for the translation, "putain" may have the gravitas of shouting "fuck!" but it doesn't have quite the same sexual component.

Best,

JE

Kate
Kate

What this post shows is that a) foreign languages aren't on the U.S. media's radar; as a country, we're generally apathetic and ignorant about them, and b) even professional U.S. journalists fall under this cloud of ignorance when even discussing them. Joe, you exposed the apathy, but kept the ignorance.

Inho299
Inho299

I didn't criticize your right to find it offensive or that nobody noticed it in the US, I just said that the way he said "putain" had absolutely no sexual component, and the way you wrote your title implies otherwise. And I don't think that's "quibbling".Anyway, maybe we just don't see it the same way, it's really not that important.

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