Dis Donc!

“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).

I am the daughter of a symphony musician who was raised in upstate New York, and I simply breathe all things classical, be it music or 19th century literature (English and Russian). I married Sir Renaissance in New York City, and before I knew it, he had swept me up and brought me back home to his own country. So here we are. Three children, a rather ordinary life in a rather exceptional place. I am now ‘A Lady in France.’

Posted in France, Les Français (The Frenchies), Tout le Reste (Everything else), Vocabulary
44 comments on “Dis Donc!
  1. Dis donc! That’s a crazy story about Sir’s great-great grandmother. I hope that was a nice dining set! I enjoyed your language lesson, though I’m still partial to the outdated – zut alors. I think I might have watched the Little Mermaid one too many times.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Pretty sure I am going to start using this daily in order to confuse my children :) Just think of the fights I will stop by confusing them into silence! At least until they get used to the words and start ignoring me again.

  3. Brittany says:

    I think this is my new favorite expression…

  4. angela says:

    Oooh, maybe I will add this to my repetoire. It’s a lovely way of almost cursing without using words that aren’t repeatable by my children :) Although my French accent has always been atrocious, so I promise not to actually use it in France.

  5. Ado says:

    I want to be able to use these two words in our house on a minute-by-minute basis every day! Dis donc! What a delightful little post – and how different the culture is that the school removed parking spots to create beauty (which possibly matters to the French in a way that escapes us here?) Charming!!
    PS: OMG, up until today I thought your name was Jane (probably from Lady Jane) and well – eh beh – dis donc!

  6. Shell says:

    What a fun phrase! Dis donc.

  7. That’s awful about your school parking! What were they thinking? Dis donc! And a Monet? Ouch! Do you know which one it was?

  8. chickster says:

    That’s just fun to say! I also need to start incorporating more “Eh beh” into my french.

  9. mep says:

    Entertaining and instructive! I just pictured my much beloved high school French teacher using your Young Lady’s expression and enjoyed imagining it. Sorry I’ve been absent from blogland, but I’m making a re-entry soon.

    Where will you park?

  10. {oc cottage} says:

    Ahhh, driving and what cities think will pass for logic, eh?
    “They” will be working on the main intersection buy my work from August…{wait for it…} until March. No biggy that this intersection is the ONLY access to our building…guess we all need to learn to teleport! Grrrrrr! Dis Donkeys, is right! ;}

    m ^..^

  11. blueviolet says:

    I’d very much like to add this to my vocab too! So cute! I also learned zut alors in french, and I believe I used it when I was in France. LOL

  12. amber says:

    It’s a very pretty little useless space! My great grandfather sold 80 acres (oceanfront!!!) on Nantucket for $1. Dis donc, indeed.

  13. Maggie S says:

    Thanks for updating me. I have always felt a little naughty using ‘zut alors’ like I am cursing.

    Your blog is beautiful.

    Stopping by from SITS.

  14. “Dis donc” I like how it flows so jerkily off the tongue. I shall use it today :)

  15. Alexandra says:

    How I’m wishing that you’d Vlog, so we could hear these lovely phrases in French.

    I’d love that.

  16. As long as you promise me that Young Prince did, in fact, say “when will it coooooome, da ice cream?”

    I’ll be happy.

    Because that’s a question worthy of an answer if ever I heard one.

    XO

  17. Abbey Frog says:

    I have never heard that expression before, but I like it very much. I have looked at your wedding photos (thanks for the tip off) and I think you look gorgeous, as do the bridesmaids. Good colour red :-)

    • ladyjennie says:

      Thanks friend – they look much more red in the photos than they actually were. One of my friends hemmed it and wore it as a cocktail dress so I felt very satisfied in my choice. (Although the other 9 may have pushed them into the back of their closet and forgot about them).

  18. Anne says:

    So happy to have found your blog and to get a little Français in my life! I miss my dis donc (s) and zut alors (s) and bien sur(s)!

  19. Ohmylordy, you’ve just given me the perfect way to seem cultured. I’m going to start using this and when people ask me what it means, I’ll just sigh in frustration…”You mean you’re not fluent in French.” *eye roll* *walk away*

  20. Carole says:

    What was that great-great grandmother thinking??

    After studying French, I was so excited to be in France actually using the language. Kept waiting for someone to say “zut alors” and no one ever did. ;)

  21. That last dis donc sent my stomach in knots. It’s like when my great grandparents sold there little house IN THE HAMPTONS right before it was worth millions. {sigh}

    • ladyjennie says:

      Yeah – isn’t that the thing? I comfort myself that I would never have met my husband if they still owned those paintings, because we would have moved in veeery different circles.

  22. Ameena says:

    I love coming to your blog because I inevitably learn something so fabulous French and it makes me love the country even more!

  23. amanda says:

    I always feel more cultured when I leave here! And I will be using dis donc throughout the entire weekend … :)

  24. Anne Marie says:

    Growing up speaking French (immigrated from Switzerland),my now grown up Sons laugh at my probably “outdated” expressions—”zut allors,” “mais quelle affaire,” “depeche toi” (sorry about the spelling?). Brings back memories…and chuckles!

I'm Lady Jennie - Welcome to A Lady in France!

I think I was born in the wrong era. I am meant to live in the 19th century. In England. Born into an aristocratic family that is independently wealthy and doesn't need to marry off its daughters to save them from becoming spinster governesses. ( To continue reading, please click here. )

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