“Dis donc” is a funny expression. It sounds funny to say (dee-donk), and it’s antiquated yet still widely used (unlike zut alors! despite assurances to the contrary from my 7th grade French reader).
It literally means, “say, therefore!” which you could take to mean something like
Well you don’t say!
Or – Would you look at that!
Or – I’ll be darned!
Or – Saaaaay (à la Dr Seuss in Green Eggs and Ham)
Dis donc expresses surprise, and often borders on the sarcastic, an intricate balance intrinsic to the French. (Say that three times fast).
So I laughed when we drove up near our school where they had been doing road work all summer, and discovered that they had turned a small parking lot, which used to fit about 8 cars, into a lovely little spot that will not fit 8 cars.
And then we drove up the street that used to have parking on both sides of the street for the pick-up and drop-off at school, and that will no longer have parking on both sides of the street. As you can see, one side is a bike path and the other side shares pre-set parking spots on both sides (only 6), marked by stone borders. Traffic should be lovely.
So as I was swerving around these parking spots and the oncoming traffic, Young Lady comes out with, “C’est un vrai parcours, dis donc!” (It’s a real obstacle course here, I’ll be durned).
It made me laugh.
We might use dis donc in other situations. Like my father-in-law might see Young Lady waltz in with garishly red painted toes and barely have time to register disdain before seeing Petit Prince troll in with his garishly red painted toes.
Eh beh – dis donc !
Or I might exclaim at the tomato I picked that was so large it made a tomato salad to feed 8(!)
“Uh, Honey – what, did you add fertilizer when I wasn’t looking? Dis donc!”
Or Young Knight might emit a long suffering sigh and say, “When it will coooome da ice-cream? Dis donc!”
Petit Prince might, for instance, say “vache, vache dis doc” (Look! Cows!)
(cuz that’s all he says).
Or Sir might shake his head while looking at the portrait of his great-great grandmother who (I recently found out) sold a few paintings in order to get a new dining room set.
It was only 6 Sisley’s, a Manet, a Monet and a Pissarro.
“Well, didn’t she just get herself the deal of the century, dis donc!”
We might all use dis donc when saying these kinds of things, but only Young Lady actually did.
(And perhaps my father-in-law did too).