Who needs French? I have a cake. Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

Before I got married a good friend told me he wanted to keep the engagement short just so he didn’t have to say the word fiancee all the time.  Hell, if I ever had to use the word “accountrement” in my job, I think I would just about have to kill myself.

Unless you’re French, French Canadian or just learned the French language from the Rosetta Stone, using French phrases for ordinary men should be limited and used very carefully.

If you think about it, using French phrases in your everyday speech is kind of like using foie gras in your cooking – too much can turn people off from the entire dish.  That dish my friend, is you.

So here is a carefully selected list of French phrases that are ESM tested and approved.  Just make sure to not wear them out because people might start thinking you’re one of those guys that use quotes out of context (see: cults).

Phrase #1: “je ne sais quoi”
The literal translation of this phrase is “I don’t know what”.  It’s most commonly used when people say someone has a certain, I dunno, “je ne sais quoi“.

If you used the phrase as above, don’t be surprised if someone hits you as hard as possible with an open hand to make you scream like a baby.

The only appropriate time to use this phrase is when you are humorously describing something that is really horrible.  For example, when you are describing your friend’s cooking that is generally a disaster.  Or – if you are describing someone incapable of dancing.

Only then can you say they have a certain, je ne sais quoi.

Phrase #2: “joie de vivre”
“The joy of living” is commonly used when describing someone (or a group of people) that enjoys life to the fullest.  You can see their happiness eminating from everything they do.

Dudes don’t describe people that way.  They describe them as happy.

The more appropriate way to use the phrase can be used before you are about to do something illegal or close to illegal.  For example, if you are about to enter a strip joint and are about to have a 5 hour lap dance with your favorite dancer, you can then say that you’ve got a certain joie de vivre about you.

You can also describe a Las Vegas nightclub where there are multiple, half naked women making out with each other as also having joie de vivre.

Because at that point, my friends, you are definitely enjoying life.

Phrase 3: “agent provocateur”
Oh man, the damage you can do with this phrase.  First off, being an ESM reader, you have to know about the lingerie store titled Agent Provocateur.  So this type of usage would probably be the best for your situation: “Let’s go to Agent Provocateur and go shopping.”

What hotel is this? And where can I book a reservation?!?

You can also use it in other ways as well.  Use this term instead of calling yourself a secret agent: “Consider me your agent provocateur madame.  I will get the job done for you.”   It literally means “a person employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act.”


Phrase 4: “pièce de résistance”
Careful with this one.  It’s used all the time by wanna be art critics and socialites.  You should only bust this one out at the most discerning of times.

My recommendation – use it when you are describing something in conjunction with Phrase #2.   When you are doing something illegal or close to illegal, it’s always best to have something as the pinnacle of the event.

For example, when you pull out the Lamborghini Reventon roadster instead of the Ferrari for that illegal street race.

As the car pulls up you can say, “And now for the pièce de résistance. Suckas.”

Phrase #5: “coup de grâce”
By far, this is my penultimate French phrase.  I try to use it during any conversation I have with other people even if it doesn’t make sense.

According to Wikipedia, it means “a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature.”

I mean seriously, do I have to give you examples on how to use this one?  See: Karate Kid.


To create Essential Style for Men, mix 2 parts petrol, 1 part secret agent, 1 part rock and roll, 1 part hip-hop and a shot of tequila in a shaker with ice and vigorously shake for 20 seconds. Pour into a martini glass rimmed with explosives and have a supermodel serve for all your friends to enjoy.