Almost homophones in French

For some reason, lately I’ve been having trouble with almost homophones in French. Not every time the words came up, but often enough that I was worried the pregnancy is affecting my language. Googling only brings up all the ways my actions during pregnancy can impact bébé’s language development (like I didn’t have enough to worry about already), so I have concluded that it’s probably just because I am very tired and I have eight thousand other things to think about besides perfect pronunciation. And maybe since the words are similar they’re stored in the same place in my brain so the right one doesn’t always get accessed immediately. Or maybe they’re Freudian slips, though why I’d have suppressed feelings about ostriches is uncertain . . .

Autriche/Autruche – one is a European country, one is a flightless bird. The country comes up in conversation more often than the bird, but you don’t want to accidentally book a vacation to an ostrich farm instead of Vienna. Also, I heard the expression “politique de l’autruche” the other day, and asked my husband what was so special about Austria’s politics.

Ouragan/Origan – the first is a violent storm, the second a mild Italian seasoning. While contextually the difference should be clear (you don’t look usually for hurricanes in your kitchen cabinets), out of context phrases that start with “I need/I want/Where is/Have you seen/Is there any” aren’t always immediately clear.

Jeun/Jaune – to be “à jeun” means to have an empty stomach, something that has definitely been happening a lot the past few months with all the different tests I’ve had to do. Though the nice lab techs didn’t even bat an eye when I mistakenly confirmed that I was “yellow” (jaune).

Somnifère/Sonisphere – my husband has been sleeping poorly lately and the doctor gave him some sleeping pills. My husband has also been talking about what other heavy metal concerts he wants to go to this summer, since the Sonisphere has been cancelled. I’m sure my mother-in-law was relieved but also slightly confused when I told her the other day “I have been sleeping poorly as well, but I’m not allowed to have any heavy metal concerts.”

Péridurale – this is not a homophone with anything, and the mistake is really just because I have been lazy about learning pregnancy vocabulary (reasoning: I am only pregnant a little while, and words related to babies/kids will be more important in the long run), but I keep saying “épidurale” instead. My mouth just refuses to say the French word. I’m sure this won’t cause too much confusion at the hospital, but who knows how many other mistakes I’ll make that day (having never given birth, I don’t know how exactly I’ll respond to the pain).


I’ve definitely mixed-up other words over the years, especially the first few years here, but I try not to get too discouraged. Even in English, things don’t always come out right 100% of the time! I just try to pay extra attention in important situations, and laugh off my worst gaffes with friends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *