Whether we say it to signify our misfortune, to bring good luck, or to express bad feelings about something, “merde” is without a doubt one of the most used terms by the French people on a daily basis. Today, we will explain to you all the different uses and meanings of “merde” in the French language.

What does “merde” mean in French?

Literally, the term “shit” is a common noun that refers to human or animal excrement. Etymologically speaking, “merde” comes from the Latin word “merdam”, which became “merda” before evolving into “merde” in Old French (from the 14th century). The term is also very similar in other Romance languages: it is written: “merda” in Italian and Portuguese, and “mierda” in Spanish.

However, the word is much more commonly used as a swear word. The use of “shit” is then a metaphorical way to designate something pejorative, bad, and/or uninteresting. In English, the French swear word can be translated as “shit” or “crap” or “fuck” depending on the situation. 

Examples

➡️ Il a marché dans une merde de chien.

He stepped in dog shit.

➡️ Range tes merdes.

Tidy up your crap.

➡️ Il a merdé.

He fucked up

How to pronounce the word “merde”?

It is not uncommon to hear English-speaking foreigners pronounce “merde” something like “meurd”. In truth, the term is closer to “mèrd” in the sense that the “-er” in French is pronounced less gutturally and more sharply than in English.

Using the letters of the international phonetic alphabet, the official phonetic writing of “shit” is /mɛʁd/.

How is the term “merde” used in France?

Depending on the context and the situation, “merde” will be used to mean very different things. It can be used in two main ways:

  1. “Merde” used as an interjection

When something doesn’t go as planned, when you get hurt, when you make a mistake or for any other reason, the French will be led to cry out “Merde!”, in the same way, that an English speaker would shout “Shit! The term “merde” will be used to express anger and rage.

Contrary to what one might think, “merde” can also be used in a non-pejorative way. For example, to wish someone good luck before a show, an important meeting, or an exam, it is traditional to say “merde” to communicate support. A similar logic is found in its English equivalent, “break a leg”, which is a pejorative expression used in a positive context.

  1. “Merde” used as a name

As you may have guessed, “merde” is one of the most used swear words in France. Often used to emphasize one’s thoughts and ideas, the term is used in all sorts of ways in French, just like “fuck” or “shit” in English. 

Although it is still used to refer to excrement or a disgusting smell, “merde” is mostly used as a metaphor in the many expressions based on the word.

Terms and expressions derived from the word “merde” 

Just like its English equivalent “shit”, the term “merde” is at the origin of many colloquial and pejorative expressions of all kinds. Here are 7 expressions derived from the word “merde” frequently used in French.

  1. Merdique

“Merdique” (=shitty) is a colloquial adjective derived from the noun “merde” which is used to describe something bad, worthless, and/or uninteresting. It can also be used in a more literal way to refer to something disgusting, nauseating, and/or repulsive.

Examples:

➡️ Depuis quelques jours, il a une attitude merdique

Since a few days, he has had a shitty attitude.

➡️ Quoi qu’on en dise, son travail était merdique.

Whatever anyone says, his work was shitty.

➡️ En entrant dans ce bâtiment abandonné, nous avons senti une odeur merdique.

Coming into this abandoned building, we smelled a shitty odor.

  1. Merder

“Merder” is the intransitive verb from the noun “shit”. It is used to mean the fact of making a mistake, of being wrong. This verb has the particularity to be used almost exclusively in the past tense (“avoir merdé”). The closest English equivalent would be “to fuck up” although it can also be translated by other more colorful English expressions like “to drop the ball” or “to shit the bed”. 

Examples

➡️ Il a oublié de lui dire. Il a vraiment merdé.

He forgot to tell him. He really fucked up.

➡️ J’ai merdé sur ce projet. Je vous prie de m’excuser.

I dropped the ball on this project. Please, excuse me.

➡️ Comment as-tu pu merder à ce point ?

How could you shit the bed this bad?

  1. Emmerder et emmerde

The terms “emmerder” and “emmerde” are more vulgar versions of the words “embêter” and “embêtements”. The former can be used as a transitive verb (“s’emmerder”) as well as an intransitive verb (“emmerder quelqu’un”). The second one is a common noun that is similar to the colloquial version of “problèmes”. In English, their translations are multiple. We will use “to piss off” to translate “emmerder” while we will prefer “to be bored” to translate “s’emmerder”. As for the term “emmerde”, it is more likely to be translated as “trouble” or “problem”.

Examples:

➡️ Arrête d’emmerder ta sœur ! 

Stop pissing off your sister !

➡️ Cela fait longtemps que je n’ai pas eu d’emmerdes.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had troubles.

➡️ Je m’emmerde trop à l’école.

I’m bored to death at school. 

  1. Être une merde

The expression “être une merde” is used to describe someone or something that is considered worthless. In French, we can also use the expressions “être pété”, “être naze” or “être éclaté” to mean the same idea. Depending on the situation and the subject of the sentence, we can use “to be a piece of shit” or simply “to be shit” to translate “être une merde”.

Examples:

➡️ Ne fais pas attention à lui, ce mec est une merde

Don’t worry about him, this guy is a piece of shit.

➡️ Ce portable est une merde. Il refuse encore de s’allumer. 

This phone is shit. He still refuses to turn on.

➡️ Je suis vraiment une merde à ce jeu. 

I am really shit at this game.

  1. Être dans la merde

The expression “to be in a mess” is used to mean that one is in a particularly difficult and/or delicate situation. The closest English translation is “to be in a mess” although other expressions can be used depending on the context. In French, there are many expressions that derive from “être dans la merde” such as “être dans la merde jusqu’au cou” or “être dans une merde noire”, and synonms like “être au fond du trou”.

Examples:

➡️ Mon réveil n’a pas sonné, je suis dans une merde noire.

My alarm clock didn’t ring, I am in deep shit.

➡️ Il a perdu tout son argent. Il est dans la merde jusqu’au cou.

He lost all his money. He is in a real mess.

➡️ Elle a raté son bus. Elle est dans la merde.

She missed her bus. She is in a mess.

  1. Foutre la merde

To “Foutre la merde” means to create problems, to create chaos, to sow discord, or to cause discord within a group. The expression is particularly vulgar since it is composed of two coarse words: “foutre” which is a colloquial way of saying “do”, and “merde”. The expression can be translated as “to mess around” in English, although the term sounds stronger in French.

Examples

➡️ Il a vraiment foutu la merde à la soirée hier.

He really messed shit up at the party last night.

➡️ Arrêtez de foutre la merde !

Stop messing around !

➡️ Je fous toujours la merde quand je m’ennuie.

I always mess around when I’m bored.

  1. Faire de la merde

Contrary to what one might think at first glance, “faire de la merde” has a very different meaning from the expression “foutre la merde”. The expression is used to mean the fact of committing useless and/or laughable actions. In a less vulgar way, it can be used as a synonym for “faire n’importe quoi” in its meaning of acting in spite of common sense. Its closest translations are “to fuck up” and “to mess up”, although other terms may be used depending on the situation.

Examples:

➡️ Je ne sais pas pourquoi je n’arrête pas de faire de la merde.

I don’t know why I can’t stop doing random things.

➡️ Elle a fait de la merde. Elle a inversé les deux réponses.

She messed up. She switched the two answers.

➡️ J’ai merdé et je m’en rappellerais toute ma vie.

I fucked up and I’ll remember it my whole life.

Now that the meaning of merde has no secrets for you, why not learn more about the meaning of other French expressions most used in the world as putain

Discover for example the origins of age-old expressions like “touché” or “je ne sais quoi“. 

Translated into English by Sacha