French Language Blog

L’argent: Expressions and Slang Posted by on Jun 27, 2016 in Vocabulary

Money has been in the news a lot lately, especially with the recent historical Brexit referendum. Since the British voted to exit the EU, stocks around the world have plummeted…and are still plummeting. And other large European countries, like France and Germany, are determining how this possible exit will leave their own economies.

Given this interest in the European economy, let’s take a look at some common French expressions about money. First, let’s preface this by saying that the French have a lot of different words for money. L’argent is the common, general word for money, but there are many other words, including le sou, le fric, and la maille, which are less formal and more likely to appear in spoken French. Many of these terms have an interesting history: le sou was a small-sum coin that was in use in France for over one thousand years and has entered the common vocabulary to mean money more generally. La maille was also a coin used in French history. Beginning in the Middle Ages, la maille was a small coin in common usage and became part of several French expressions, including être sans sou ni maille. Literally, maille means “knit” in French and refers back to the knit-metal armour used by knights in the Middle Ages.

When speaking more theoretically about money (for example, about the function of money in the abstract and not the actual money used to pay for goods or services), you can use la monnaie. However, in common usage, la monnaie means coins in particular. Les éspeces also refers to coins (although this is a more recent development), as does the term les pièces. You can also use the term papier-monnaie or billet to talk about bills, or paper money. Other familiar terms for money include la goseille, la thune, and le pognon.

All of these terms for money are used in many French expressions and proverbs. Several scholars have noted the plentitude of expressions about or using money in French and have stated that it has to do with the special signification that money holds in French culture as being linked to greed, as French culture has traditionally upheld the importance of thought and philosophy above more material concerns. Here are a few French expressions about money:

jeter l’argent par les fênetres

Literally meaning “to throw money out the windows,” this expression comes from the sixteenth century practice of throwing money out windows to beggars on the street and means that one is wasteful with money.

Je suis fauché (comme les blés)

Literally meaning “I am mowed like wheat,” this expression means that you are completely broke. Today, most people say je suis fauché alone.

pas un sou de bon sense

This expression means that someone doesn’t have an ounce of common sense.

Can you think of other words for money in French, or other French expressions that deal with money or use monetary terms? Leave them in the comments below!

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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!


  1. Svaneska:

    Hmmm… I think you mean to say that the British voted to exit the EU … NOT the UK surely!! lol … or are they leaving in droves

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Svaneska Thanks, Svaneska, for catching that! Haha, you’re right that would be even more unexpected. I’ve edited the post to correct the mistake.