French Language Blog

Have a Hair-Raising (ébouriffant) Halloween! Posted by on Oct 26, 2015 in Grammar

“Hair-raising” is a great adjective in English. It’s descriptive and makes you understand exactly what it conveys…a fright that makes your hair stand up on end.

Some dictionaries offer “terrifiant(e)” as the French translation of “hair-raising.” Another translation–and perhaps one that is more accurate–is “ébouriffant(e).” Neither of these words, however, are as descriptive as the original English word (this is one of the reasons why translations are so difficult!).

But there is an expression in French that more accurately conveys this English adjective: “faire dresser les cheveux sur la tête” means something that makes your hair stand up on end. It can also mean “to bristle,” which provides similar imagery, but conveys less a sense of fright than a sense of disgust or anger. For example, you could say: “J’ai ecouté un chanteur hier soir. C’était une experience à vous faire dresser les cheveux sur la tête!” (I heard a singer last night. It was a hair-raising experience!). This could mean that the singer was so bad that it made this listener’s hair stand up on end.

Another word that could accurately translate “hair-raising” is the more familiar “horripiler.” This verb literally means to “bristle hairs”and usually conveys the sense that someone is incredibly annoyed by someone else’s actions. For example, you could say: “Tu m’horripiles quand tu fais ce bruit-là!” (You really annoy me/make me bristle when you make those noises!). The adjective form is “horripilant.”

Finally, another expression you could use is “hérisser le poil.” This means exactly the same thing as “horripiler,” except it is a more standard expression. “Hérisser” means to bristle or to ruffle. “Le poil” means “a hair” — normally, if you want to talk about the hair on your head, for example, you would say either “les cheveux” or “les poils” — notice how both are plural (unless you are referring to one single hair, the French refer to hair in general in the plural). Thus, “hérisser le poil” literally means “to bristle a hair.” Once again, this is not normally used to mean that something scares you, but rather that something is really annoying or disgusting. For example, you could say: “Ça me hérisse le poil,” which means “it really gets on my nerves.”

Ok, so we’ve gotten off the original meaning of “hair-raising.” But here are some good translations for this English adjective, as well as some other, related expressions that have to do more with annoyance than fear. Do you know of any other expressions in French that use or play off the word “hair”? Leave them in the comments!

Have a hair-raising Halloween! Passez un Halloween ébouriffant!


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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!