New French Lingo: du Coup.

Lucy Ferriss at Lingua Franca writes about a phenomenon of whose existence I had no suspicion:

Each time I stay in France for an extended period, I become aware of a new expression that’s infiltrated the language. Just as the occasional sojourner in America might be surprised to discover woke or the ubiquity of like, I’ve found myself suddenly hearing a phrase I thought I understood, used with almost alarming frequency in contexts that don’t quite add up.

This time, the phrase du coup, which technically means “at a blow” or “suddenly,” most familiar to French language learners from the expression tout d’un coup, now echoes from sidewalk cafés, métro trains, meeting rooms, and hallways.

On ne sort pas ce soir. On fait quoi du coup?
We’re not going out tonight. So then what do we do? […]

It was a relief to discover I wasn’t alone in suspecting this once-meaningful phrase had become a discourse marker. The French, so often devoted to prescriptivism (I’m looking at you, l’Académie Française), have had a field day recently with the proliferation of du coup. Writing in Le Figaro, Quentin Périnel, the “bureaulogue,” suspects that his readers screamed at the sight of a headline proposing to examine du coup […]

In 2014, du coup had already become so ubiquitous that the Académie Française did indeed weigh in, writing:

[…] We must not, then, use “du coup,” as we often hear, in place of “therefore” or “consequently.” We must also avoid making “du coup” a simple adverb of speech without particular meaning.

Good luck with that. Even though, as the French writer Claudine Chollet has observed, the expression poisons intellectual discourse because it “has the appearance of a logical expression but hides any real argument [as to cause and effect] in order to win approval from others,” du coup is not going away.

Quite right, and why should it? Tempora mutantur, du coup nos et mutamur in illis.


  1. In 50 years it’ll seem as normal as “beaucoup”… maybe french people just enjoy making the sound of the word “coup”?

  2. That’s coo-coo!

  3. That “du coup” usage is likely at least 50 years old, as I remember it from my childhood.

  4. Hat is quite an anarchist in matters linguistic…

  5. It may be an artefact of being “dans le bain”, but I don’t see a drift in usage in 49 years of practice. More specifically, the ”Académie” moans that the sense of “suddenness” should be present for proper usage – I don’t recall this ever being the case in my cohort’s usage.
    What I can’t measure is its growing popularity. Especially now that I’ve read about it. Du coup, I’m sure I’ll hear it everywhere!

  6. Stu Clayton says

    I encountered du coup a few times this year, and puzzled over it to no avail. What use is descriptivism when the description is missing ?

  7. Still Waters says

    It seems extremely well established in European French by now and I had never encountered peevery about this usage. Grévisse (not in his grammar, but in a “guide to the language’s difficulties”) seems to think it’s a truncation of “du même coup”, but only refers to its older (and by now almost obsolete) meaning of “suddenly”.

    The ngram for “Du coup” (with the capitalisation hopefully catching uses as a sentence initial discourse marker) shows a growth starting around 1880, with a strong uptick since the mid 1970s:

    This certainly fits with the other commenters’ impression that this usage was well established for the last 50 years.

    Somehow I was only familiar with “Tout à coup” and not with “Tout d’un coup”, a more stigmatised variant that never made it to my own usage (or my notice) at all.

  8. Here in Ireland: “Oh, we’re not going out tonight? What are we going to do, so?”

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