Today we are going to talk about a very common word : gueule. (It is quite vulgar, so you should read my warning about vulgar words.)
Originally, la gueule is not vulgar at all and denotes the mouth of animals such as wolves, dogs and lions. Se jeter dans la gueule du loup, literally “to throw yourself into the wolf’s mouth”, is the French equivalent of “to walk into a lion’s den”.
However, when you use it to talk about humans, it is offensive.
Ferme ta gueule !
Shut your damn mouth!
In this sentence, you can even omit the verb: ta gueule is a common and vulgar way to tell people to STFU.
More usually, gueule refers to the face or the facial expression.
Je me suis pris le ballon dans la gueule.
The ball flew right into my face.
Gueule is part of many expressions. One of them is casser la gueule (also péter la gueule or exploser la gueule): “to beat up”.
Je vais lui casser la gueule !
I’m gonna beat him up!
The reflexive version, se casser la gueule or se péter la gueule, means “to fall”.
Je me suis pété la gueule dans les escaliers.
I fell down the stairs.
Faire la gueule means “to be mad at someone”, “to sulk”.
Bon, tu vas enfin me dire pourquoi tu fais la gueule ?
So, are you finally going to tell me why you’re mad?
Une sale gueule is not a dirty face, but an ugly face. The expression délit de sale gueule, literally “crime of having an ugly face”, is used to refer to racial discrimination or profiling. It is similar to the American phrase “driving while black”.
Another useful expression is gueule de bois: “hangover” (literally “wooden mouth”). For some reason, it is not vulgar and you can use it safely.
As I said at the beginning, gueule in most contexts is vulgar, so you shouldn’t use it unless you know precisely what effect it will have. However, it is important to learn it because it is very common and you will definitely hear it from French people. There are several non-vulgar synonyms that can replace gueule is most of these expressions (bouche, tête, figure, tronche):
- casser la figure (péter la figure sounds a little weird),
- faire la tronche, faire la tête.
Listen to the examples: