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Faire les quatre cents coups

French expressions analyzed and explained

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Expression: Faire les quatre cents coups

Pronunciation: [fehr lay kat(reu) sa(n) coo]

Meaning: to raise hell, live a wild life, sow one's wild oats

Literal translation: to do the four hundred tricks

Register: normal

Notes: Many expressions can't be translated literally between French and English, but the French expression faire les quatre cents coups is one that makes virtually no sense at all - you can't even guess as to what it means figuratively. I think it's partly the definite article les ("the") that makes it so difficult, as if there are 400 specific tricks that one must do in order to claim that you've lived a truly wild life.

Also, the word coup has numerous meanings; in faire les quatre cents coups, it's in the sense of un mauvais coup - "a dirty or mean trick." Unfortunately, the title of the François Truffaut's film Les Quatre Cents Coups was poorly translated as "The 400 Blows" in English. "400 Tricks" would have been a little better, but I think the best translation would have been something more figurative like "Raising Hell" or "The Wild One."

Example

   Paul ne va pas à l'université ; il fait toujours les quatre cents coups.
   Paul isn't going to college, he's still sowing his wild oats.


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