Lyon sayings

How to speak like a local 

Lyon may be the most beautiful city on the planet, the most strategically placed, it may have the best eclectic mix of food, people and sites, but Lyon is also a language. Well, a dialect of sorts. So come take a dive into the lingo of the Lyonnais with these 30 words and expressions and flaunt your knowledge openly.

 

Une gâche

If you want to part with your Renault Clio and wander aimlessly along the banks of the river Saône, then you’re going to need a suitable ‘gâche’, or parking place. Une bonne gâche is also a good job or a nice spot. In the sun for example.

 

Un gône 

Here’s one widely used word in Lyon to call a kid a kid.

 

Un mâchon

Plucked from the verb ‘mâcher’ which means to chew, the mâchon is a cultural institution in Lyon which consists of eating pig and slurping Beaujolais or Maconnais wine in the early hours of the morning while most people are still snoring. The silk workers known as the ‘Canuts’ used to have this hearty communal munch after waking up at some unholy hour in the Croix Rousse, tummies a-rumbling.

 

La vogue

La vogue is a fair in the Croix Rousse, where dodgems, dippers and other belly-wrenching delights are to be found throughout the month of October, fuelled by the smells of roasted chestnuts and ‘bugnes’, another Lyon speciality.

The “Vogue aux marrons” in the Croix-Rousse

 

Les grattons

Grattons are pork scratchings, basically, with a touch more grease. Crunch on that and moisten your lips with a little Beaujolais and you might find yourself slowly morphing into a true Lyonnais.

 

Une bugne

Crunchy pastry, tongue-shaped, with snow storms of icing sugar on top. It can be lemon-tinted too. Recommended with tea.

 

Chougner 

My favourite Lyonnais verb. It means to ‘whinge’. ‘Arrête de chougner’ (stop whinging) can be a suitable life-saver when you’re walking down the street with a constant moaner who can’t wake up to the world around them because they’re too busy worrying about crap. Try it.

 

Un pélo  

 A word for ‘a guy’, ‘mate’, or ‘bloke’. Ça va mon pélo? Alright mate?

 

Jacter

If you’re into gossip and hate straight-talking, you might do this. Jacter is to speak about someone behind their back, saying all sorts of mean and gruesome things. Not good, but a lot of fun.

 

Chouraver

If you see something you want and don’t particularly desire to pay for it, you can steal it. Chouraver is the verb to pinch.

 

Cagnard 

It’s August in Lyon, 40 degrees. You’re feeling hot, your face is becoming beetroot, sweat is trickling down your temples. You’re in ‘full sun’, or ‘en plein cagnard’, so if you don’t want to end up in accident and emergency with a very sexy nurse, head for a little shade. Your call.

 

Le pot/ la fillette

This is what they put the wine in. Beaujolais or Côte du Rhône. Served in all the ‘bouchons’, le pot is a gorgeous bottle made of recycled glass with a thick glass bottom and holds 46 centilitres, to be precise. La fillette ‘little girl’ can hold a little less, 25 or 29 cl. Ahem. Very gender neutral.

 

Canut and bistanclaque

Canuts were 19th century silk workers who soldiered their bottoms off in the Croix Rousse for rich merchants. They lived and worked in high-ceilinged appartments, tall enough to fit their huge machines called bistanclaques, so-called because of the noise they made. Great word.

 

La traboule

traboule is a network of secret passageways used by silk workers to transport their goods down to the river Saône without getting them wet. Traboules were later used by the résistance for secret meetings in occupied France. They’re true wonders, quaint and very Lyonnais.

 

Le bouchon

A typical restaurant in Lyon, the culinary capital oh yes, where you can feast your eyes and bellies on anything pig. There are dozens of them around the city, offering all sorts, from pig’s innards ‘andouillette’, pig’s trotters and pig’s cheeks, to frog’s legs and veal liver. Yum.

Typical bouchon “La Meunière” in Lyon

 

La fenotte

This is a name for a girl or a woman, depending on your own definition of where the girl stops and the woman begins.

 

Le gadin

 A few beers or Beaujolais in your belly and you walk down the steps of la montée de la Grande Côte. Un gadin is something you might do if you’re singing Johnny Halliday at the top of your voice and not looking where you’re going. Fall.

 

Bugner

 This is to hit or to whack something, like the front and back of the car if you’re trying to get out of parallel parking space. The French are renowned experts, and the Lyonnais are no exception.

 

Baigner dans la beine

This literally means having a bath in a skip. Or to be a little bit mad. Might try it one day, with bubbles and a glass of champagne.

 

Etre dans le brouillard du Rhône

To be immersed in the fog of the river Rhône, means that you haven’t be born yet. You’re still in the misty amniotic fluid where it’s all cosy and you don’t have to cook for yourself.

 

Être colère, être trempe

If you’ve annoyed someone because you beat them at a Pub Quiz at the Wallace, they could be ‘colère’ with you, i.e. ‘il est colère’. The only difference from standard French is that it omits the ‘en’ before colère. The same sort of set-up with the second expression, être trempe, to be soaking wet, where the accent is taken off the final e. Bit of a free-for-all this Lyon lingo.

 

Débarouler

To fall head over tit, basically. Or to show up somewhere in a hectic mess.

 

La ficelle

This is what the Lyonnais call the funicular railway which links Vieux Lyon to Fourvière and St Just or the funicular which links to the Croix-Rousse. What fun it is. Really.

 

Gnaquer

If you are a vampire and bite someone violently, you would ‘gnaque’ them. But apart from in television series, there are very few fangs around Lyon these days.

 

C’est quelle heure?

 Don’t ask this to a Parisian because you’ll get a blank look. Ask it to a Lyonnais and they’ll probably find it within themselves to tell you the time.

 

Quenelle

A dubiously-shaped dumpling-like thing served in a Nantua or fish sauce. It’s also a synonym for penis, believe it or not.

Quenelle as served at restaurant Chez Abel./ Tim Douet

 

Un ganais

Un ganais is a total idiot. Pure and simple.

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