French Phrase of the Day: Rire Jaune

French Phrase of the Day: To give a fake a laugh / To force a laugh

I overheard this phrase at a Chinese New Year dinner last night with fellow expats. I don’t even know how it came up, but I asked what it meant and apparently it means to give a fake laugh. But, if you translate it literally, it actually means “yellow laugh”. Being Asian, I thought it was quite offensive and made a comment along the lines of “Well, isn’t that a bit racist”… especially considering we’re at a celebratory dinner for the Chinese New Year.

Well, I decided to look up the origin of this expression and was pleasantly surprised that the term has nothing to do with Asians. Lesson learned – don’t jump to conclusions especially when it comes to terms from different cultures. Apparently the “jaune” comes from the hue a person’s face turns into when a person is faking a laugh because of their liver sending up bile. Seriously – this is one of the “origins” of the term. Apparently, the origin of rire jaune has some other negative connotations related to Judas, Lucifer, etc.


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