Hurluberlu etc...

Languages are full of words that can seem so very strange to a non-native speaker, and French is no exception. Here is a selection of unlikely words that describe .....insanity. Try using them in day-to-day conversation.


Our first word to describe craziness is crazy in more than one way. The adjective loufoque originated from the standard French word fou (crazy) in louchébem, a slang supposedly invented by French butchers in the 19th century - louchebem means boucher (butcher) in louchebem. Reliable sources, however, report the slang would have been created as a secret language by inmates at Brest Prison, with records dating back to 1821. Chance is, those inmates were butchers.

How does it work? Louchébem involves moving the first consonant of a word to the end, tacking on a standard suffix and adding the letter “L” to the beginning. Yes, really. This is still used in the French meat industry today. During the Nazi occupation louchébem was used by Parisian members of the Resistance.

In terms of everyday use, pretty much anything wacky, absurd, silly or goofy can be loufoque, such as une histoire loufoque (story), une idée loufoque (idea) or un vêtement loufoque (clothes). Note that the adjective does not commonly describe people - but we have perfect options for those below. You'll also come across the noun une loufoquerie, which means exactly what you'd think.

Un hurluberlu

Yes, this word does exist in French. Fittingly for a weird-sounding word, un hurluberlu is a way to describe a weirdo an eccentric, an oddball or scatterbrained person.

Depending on the gender of the person, hurluberlu can be spelled without an 'e' for male screwballs (un hurluberlu) or with an 'e' (une hurluberlue) for female crackpots.

The exact origins of this word are unknown, but it’s old enough to have been used in the 16th century by the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais. Rabelais was playful and creative with his word choice and highly influential on the French language. He was responsible for adding loan words to French from Greek and Latin, as well as making up some of his own, so it’s impossible to know from exactly whence hurluberlu was plucked. Some also think it might be related to the English ‘hurly-burly’ - defined as ‘busy’ or ‘boisterous’ - although the two words have completely different meanings.

Obviously, there’s no polite way to describe someone as an oddball, and calling someone un hurluberlu isn’t exactly a compliment, so it’s probably best to wait until the hurluberlu you describe is out of earshot. The word, however, belongs to proper French and has no slang connotation.

Un(e) frappadingue

This fantastic, hybrid noun is great for telling someone just how crazy they really are. Frappadingue comes from two separate words that both point towards someone’s insanity.

Frappé is the first part and comes from the verb frapper (to hit), as in, “You’re so nuts you must have been hit on the head.” The second part, dingue, means "crazy,” but could also be used on its own to emphasize how unbelievable or awesome something is - enough to drive you out of your mind. Put them both together and you’ve got someone who’s really off their rocker!

On the mental health scale, a frappadingue is a couple of notches crazier than an hurluberlu. Both are likely to engage in some loufoquerie from time to time.