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The French They Never Taught You 12: A French brouhaha is not an English brouhaha

February 25, 2015

Although English apparently borrowed the word "brouhaha" from the French, which in turn took it from the Hebrew "baruch habba" (the beginning of the phrase "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" in Psalm 118:26), the two words are used differently in English and French. Some of the bilingual dictionaries seem not to be aware of this fact, because if you look up the English word "brouhaha" in the Oxford French Dictionary, the only translation you'll find is le brouhaha.

 

What "brouhaha" actually means in English is a "fuss", a "to-do" or even a "stink." So you might say "There will be quite a brouhaha over his resignation" (which is another way of saying "There will be a great to-do over his resignation" or "There will be a big fuss over his resignation" or even "His resignation is going to cause a stink.")

 

The French translation of this would be Sa démission va faire toute une histoire or Sa démission va faire grand bruit.

 

By contrast, in French the word le brouhaha means "hubbub," "din," "racket," "hustle and bustle," etc. and can be used like this:

 

The author has just been in a quiet part of the city and then writes:

 

Me voici repartie, empruntant la rue de Paris, l'artère principale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. C'est alors qu'un joyeux brouhaha parvient à mes oreilles. Je découvre une toute petite cour pleine de vie. taken from the February 2015 issue of Écoute magazine, p. 65.

 

Obviously there is no way for a "brouhaha" (a fuss, a stink) in English to be joyeux (happy), so "brouhaha" is not the right translation of the French word. In the sentence above, un joyeux brouhaha might be translated as simply  as "a happy noise."

 

Another context, such as le brouhaha de la gare, might be translated as "the hustle and bustle of the train station."

 

Note that in English, you could say "the brouhaha about the train station"  (la gare qui a fait toute une histoire) if, for example, you were referring to the fuss that arose when city planners in New York decided to tear down Grand Central Station, prompting historic preservationists to protest. Thanks to the brouhaha, the station survived and Grand Central is just as busy as ever.

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