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On Friday I visited Le Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, and among other things, I learned that there will be opportunities for marketing the iPeeve™ in France as well. In particular, for the past few decades, French speakers have been using genre ("sort, kind, type") as an approximative discourse particle similar to English like. An example from the web:

… apres moultes problemes pour se lever on est parti genre 4 heures en retard sur le pouce.
"after many problems getting up, we got underway like 4 hours late"

Some others:

Je suis genre rarement enervé.
"I'm like rarely upset"

… en ce moment, non seulement j'ai du mal à avoir accès au net, mais en plus je suis genre super occupé.
"… right now, not only am I having difficulty getting access to the net, but also I'm like super busy."

J'marche sul bord d'un muret pis ya une marmotte qui me suit sul muret, a genre meme pas 30 cm de moi.
"I walk along a low wall, and there's a marmot who follows me on the wall, like not even 30 cm from me.

You might think that genre would work more like English "sort of", but "sort of" really doesn't fit these examples very well.

There's even a Facebook group "Pour ceux qui disent 'genre' 36 fois par phrases" ("for those who say 'genre' 36 times per sentence"), which offer this quote:

Bah c'était genre chaud, avec genre des triangle, genre spéciaux, avec des angles genre chelous, enfin c'était hyper dur, genre, tu vois ?"

I'll leave the translation to some Francophone commenter who is more plugged into current slang. I can see that chelou is verlan for louche, which makes me suspect that the triangle in question is a metaphorical one, but it's easy to get this kind of thing wrong.

I've seen a few indications that there's also a quotative genre, as in

Et je suis, genre, ouais, quoi encore?
"And I was, like, yeah, what again?"

Je suis genre rarement enervé

But this doesn't seem especially common. And in the marmot story, the author uses quotative comme instead:

La chu comme "watsup la marmotte" pis yo, a sretourne pis a s'met sur 2 pattes. Au début, j'fais un peu ma farouche, chu comme "ptet ka va mtuer" so j'back down un peu, tsé jconnais pas trop ca moi des marmotte, j'pas au courrant des super power que ca peut avoir pis toute.

This story is apparently Quebecois (at least that's my association with chu = "je suis"), but my consultants at the LPP assure me that genre is common in France as well.


  1. Wu Yong said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 12:42 am

    The Swedes seem to have adopted this: their version of 'genre' is 'typ', which means 'type, sort, kind'.

  2. gabriela said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 12:57 am

    In Mexico, at least in Mexico City, upper class young girls have adopted "tipo" which works just like in the french examples. "Estaba tipo lloviendo", for example.

  3. 9th floor said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 2:25 am

    I imagine that the marmot story might be somewhat opaque for many who are nonetheless fluent French speakers, so I offer the following for those unfamiliar with "joual":

    Then I'm like "what's up groundhog" and yo, it turns round and gets up on its hind legs. At first, I'm a bit scared, I'm like "maybe it's gonna kill me" so I back off a bit, you know, I don't know too much about groundhogs, I'm not aware of the super powers they can have and all that.

    Plusse Québecois que ça pis tu meurs!

  4. Mario said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 2:55 am

    In Spanish (from Spain) we say "como". For example:

    -Estuvimos como 4 horas caminando.

    -We were like 4 hours walking.

  5. Jacqueline said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 4:36 am

    About this sentence :Bah c'était genre chaud, avec genre des triangles, genre spéciaux, avec des angles genre chelous, enfin c'était hyper dur, genre, tu vois ?"
    It's a typical comment by a student after an exam, here a geometry problem, which he found hard to solve, not common … hence the'unreliable' angles !
    Sometimes I would translate 'genre' by 'more or less', for instance 'Je l'ai vu genre à 2heures' : it was more or less 2 o'clock when I saw him.
    Very interesting article which makes me think about my mother tongue !

  6. Florence Artur said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 4:39 am

    "Chu comme" (I'm like) would certainly be Québecois and not French French, I don't think this particular Anglicism has crossed the Atlantic yet.

    In my experience genre is indeed common in France, but I've never heard it used as intensively as the examples provided.

    Love the marmot story!

  7. Isabelle Cecchini said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 5:04 am

    Bah c'était genre chaud, avec genre des triangle, genre spéciaux, avec des angles genre chelous, enfin c'était hyper dur, genre, tu vois ?"

    I suspect the context is some sort of geometry test, as borne out by the preceding exchange:

    -alors ton contrôle ?
    – Bah c'était genre un peu dur, tu vois le genre ?
    -c'est à dire, t'as réussi ?

    What about your test?
    It was like hard, you know, like?
    What about it? Did you manage?
    Ooh, it was like difficult, with like triangles, like special triangles, with angles like seriously bizarre angles, ok, it was really hard like.

  8. Shazback said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 5:20 am

    "Bah c'était genre chaud, avec genre des triangle, genre spéciaux, avec des angles genre chelous, enfin c'était hyper dur, genre, tu vois ?"

    Well, it was kinda hard, with sort of triangles that were like special, with like strange angles, all in all it was really difficult, like, right?

    Most likely it's one person talking about a trigonometry/geometry test question. "Chaud" here only has the meaning of difficult, not of hot or sexy. "Chelous" is -as you correctly pointed out- verlan for "louche", which normally means shady or untrustworthy but here would have a meaning closer to uncommon or strange (unless you need to trust angles, I guess).

  9. BC said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 5:53 am

    Italians, like the Mexican example above, say "tipo".

  10. Adèle said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 5:57 am

    The triangle is not metaphorical. You left out the first part of the quote:
    "-alors ton contrôle ?"
    "so how was the test?"
    The quote is about a maths test, that was like, hard, with like triangles, like special, with like weird angles, like, you know?

  11. Pflaumbaum said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 6:29 am

    What do you think the link is, if any, between quotative like and the hedging or concessive variety? Is it a coincidence that the same word has both functions (in more than one language apparently)? Or does the similarity to so to speak suggest that some of these ostensibly non-quotative discourse particles call attention to the fact of your speaking, like putting quotation marks round the following phrase? As if you could paraphrase the like as, "what follows isn't objective fact, it's just what I'm saying." Or is it something else?

  12. Alexandre said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 6:39 am

    Hadn't realized «genre» was used this way in France. It’s exactly the way it's been used here in Quebec for decades, but I haven't noticed it from French people and reading some of these examples, i get a strange impression of dialect shift.
    in Quebec, they’ve been likened to punctuation. They structure discourse and relate to hedges. They also connote generation and age. Baby Boomers and members of previous generations probably use these less than those who are less than 50 at this point. But those of us in our 30s and 40s probably use them less than we did when we were teenagers. (Yes, it has been the source of teasing among siblings, in my family.) And some related expressions connote older older variants of youth speech
    We’ve also been using «comme», «tsé» («tu sais», “y’know”), and «tsë veux dire» («tu sais (ce que je) veux dire», “know what I mean?”). The last one is the most dated. «Tsé» is quite common and rather polysemic. It may seem unrelated, but it's functionally similar.
    Holophrastic use is fairly common. Just yesterday, I used «genre» (on Twitter) as the full answer to a yes/no question. I meant something close to “yup, as far as I know, probably, but you might still need to check to make sure”.
    These expressions can stringed. The utterance «comme, tsé, genre» works on its own as a way to hedge out a statement to the point of self-effacement.

  13. Mai Kuha said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 7:17 am

    The discourse marker use of "genre" is discussed here:

    Fleischman, Suzanne. 1998. "Des jumeaux du discours." La Linguistique, 34, 2, 31-47.

  14. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    As far as I know, genre can't be used that way in Cajun French. But it has an equivalent to English "kinda" in manière, e.g. Il est manière paresseux. "He's kind of lazy." This can also appear where one would expect "like" in English, e.g. Et eusse avait des petites maisons, des petites cabanes manière que eusse restait là dans le temps de la roulaison. "And they would have little houses, little cabins, like, that they lived in during the time of the sugar season."

  15. Michael Becker said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 8:28 am

    In "Et je suis, genre, ouais, quoi encore?", I believe the quotative is actually "ouais". I've definitely heard "ouais" used as a quotative before, without "genre", so the translation to English may not need the "yeah".

  16. Melissa Fox said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    I can put "sort of" in most if not all of those English sentences if I count them as British English instead of American.

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    @9th floor and Adèle: Thanks, I was getting a headache.

  18. Dan Lufkin said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    And here's another instance of the number 36 being used for "a lot of". You'd be amazed how often it gets translated literally.

  19. Spell Me Jeff said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 10:32 am


    I think paraphrase is the function of like in the quotative as well. A stuffier way of introducing a quote might work thus: "Roberta said, and this is not an exact quote but close enough, . . ."

    Of course, quotative like often introduces a performance as well as speech, complete with intonation (often exaggerated) and gestures.

    So now I'm wondering if quotative genre works that way as well.

  20. Mark F. said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 11:01 am

    Fascinating. So, in English, I have the impression that the discourse-particle use of 'like' is fairly recent in the sense that it became a lot more common over the past 50 years than it had been before, and I also have the unproven sense that, even correcting for that change, its frequency in speech tends to drop as people age and they basically train themselves out of it Is there evidence as to whether this latter impression is true?

    I the 70's it seemed like people complained a lot about people saying "you know" too much, and it did seem to often play a similar hedging role, the implication being "this isn't exactly right, but I think you know what I mean". And of course it has hardly gone away, but it seems to have lost ground to 'like'. (But has it really?)

    But I can't think what an equivalent would be for the speech of the young in earlier decades. One intuition suggests that it would be a universal tendency for younger speakers to do the equivalent of saying "like" or "you know" relatively frequently, but it might not be so. Is anything known about "overuse" of particles of this sort further back in the past?

    This new fact that cognate usages seem to be common across European language just adds to the interest. Are they influencing each other? Is there an underlying force causing people to hedge more than in the past? (This would assume that my intuition of universality is wrong.)

  21. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

    @Mark F.
    I'm not sure that we should focus on the speech of the young. My maternal grandmother used to drive me nuts (in the late '40s and early '50s) with her constant use of "you know" and my wife now also uses it quite a lot.

  22. F said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

    In Russian, типа (tipa) is (or was in the 90's?) used at least as a discourse particle — this is the genitive of "type", literally "of the type." Maybe someone who didn't emigrate in early childhood could expand on how it's used.

  23. Ben said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

    I'm with 9th floor on this one: the quotation is definitely Québecois. (I would have said "Plus Québecois que ca, tu meurs" — without the 'pis' — but I'm not a native speaker.) Some specific clues: 'a' for 'elle' ('she'), 'pis' for 'puis' ('then'), and 'tsé' for 'tu sais' ('you know'). These are all very common in Québecois; I don't know how common they are in français de France. And then there are the anglicisms: 'so', 'back down', 'super power'. Both Québecois and français de France have a lot of anglicisms, but they often have different ones.

  24. Ø said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

    I sort of agree with Melissa Fox. In fact, I was going to say sort of the same thing.

  25. komfo,amonan said,

    July 10, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

    … apres moultes problemes pour se lever on est parti genre 4 heures en retard sur le pouce.

    OT: I'm not, like, fluent in French, but I'm surprised that I have no recollection of ever seeing moult. Just me?

  26. Jo Walton said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 2:10 am

    I live in Montreal, and a little while ago I overheard a conversation at the bus stop in which a teenage girl was reporting a conversation she had with somebody else to a friend on her phone. The linking explanations were all in English, while the reported speech was all in either French of online acronyms. The funniest and most memorable bit was "So I was like 'Mon Dieu! OMG!' and she was all 'Oui, je sais, WTF?' so I'm like, 'LOL, peut etre, mais–'"

  27. Xmun said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 3:02 am

    COFD: moult (mult), adv. (archaic) [L. multum] Much.

    Not just you. I have never seen this word before. I wonder how current it is. Is it an archaism? Like, say, English "lief"? I nearly dropped my fork when I heard that word spoken at a dinner party in San Francisco a few years ago.

  28. John Walden said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 4:12 am

    If "moult" is an adverb, shouldn't it always be"moult" without a feminine or plural? I'm probably wrong, there are loads of ghits for "moultes" and some debate about if it's right, as far as I can understand.

    But vaguely on topic, might it be a modern tongue-in-cheek use of an archaism? Like a fad suddenly emerging for saying "forsooth".

    Or "lief".

    I'll get an answer eftsoons, methinks.

    [(myl) Moultes is a perfectly cromulent (if indeed semi-falsely archaic) word. From Alphonse de Waelhens, Le duc de Saint-Simon:

    And Prophéties, pronostics, présages, pressentiments, signes précurseurs, des variations du temps, prophéties vérifiées à rebours, (published 1870) reports the following passage from 1793: "Moult hauts et puissants rois seront en crainte vraie, car l'aigle enlève moults sceptres et moultes couronnes."

    Christiane Marchello-Nizia, Le français en diachronie: douze siècles d'évolution, has a section "Adverbe + Adjectif: de moult à très", which explains:

    Le cas de moult est intéressant, car le français est la seule langue romane à lui avoir substitué très et beaucoup […] En AF moult […] peut quantifier ou intensifier le nom (moultes terres, moult peine), intensifier le verb (moult me plaist), l'adjectif (il est moult granz, moult est granz, un moult grant peine), l'adverbe (moult richement). Comme quantifieur, c'est-à-dire avec un nom au pluriel, moult s'accordait anciennement dans quelques dialectes (anglo-normand surtout semble-t-il), mais cet accord n'existait plus à la fin du 12ème siècle, contrairement à ce qui c'est passé dans d'autres langues romanes.

    Eftsoons enough? ]

  29. John O'Toole said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    Yes, "moult" is definitely one of those conscious, and probably precious, archaisms that everybody and his brother reaches for when trying to strike a medieval note or be a tad humorous. In that regard, it is indeed like "eftsoons," "forsooth," "methinks," perhaps even "yclept." You might think of it as the equivalent of "many a" in English, which can also be neutral, useful, or annoying, depending on when the writer/speaker slips it in. Many many thanks for the discussion of "genre" and its ilk in other languages (tiens, "ilk" might be somewhat along these lines as well)! As a translator from the French, deontologically I need to keep up on this stuff!

  30. John Walden said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    Zounds! That was eftsoonest.

  31. David Brooks said,

    July 11, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

    "…tu vois?"

    Translation: "innit?"

  32. Keith said,

    July 12, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

    There is a great book called "Skidiz" that explains French slang and pronunciation.

    The title is a phonetic writing of "qu'est-ce qu'il disent", where the part for "qu'est" has been dropped in rapid speach leaving only "ce qu'il disent"; you can therefore read it as meaning either "what are they saying?" or "what they say".

    I first read this in about 1987, and remember it fondly.

    And "moult / moulte" is definitely alive and well and in use with about the same frequency as "maint / maintes"…

    Example: "maintes fois ai-je essayé de résoudre ce problème, et à chaque fois avec moultes difficultés". It definitely sounds archaic, contrived and over-written, and is for humorous effect.


  33. LC said,

    July 14, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    Thirding the idea that the marmot story is Quebecois. I can see the guy down the street telling me this.

  34. S said,

    July 14, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

    In Brazilian Portuguese (like Italian and Mexican Spanish as mentioned above), they also use "tipo" for similar functions, including the quotative.

  35. Ignacio said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

    'Tipo' is also used in the Buenos Aires area.

  36. Circles in Google+: From, Likes, and Following | Computering+Me said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

    […] Best of all, a link to the new GitHub Mac client can be shared with "Likes Tech," a Language Log post with "Likes NLP," and a photo from my recent trip to Europe with "Likes […]

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