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Overused vocab you probably never use: du coup

du coup

So…um…like, yeah, well, you know, so anyway…and yeah…interesting blog post…and done.

I’m sure there are all kinds of socio-linguistic reasons for filler words (that I’m inclined not to look up because…hey…Oscars are on tv, and who doesn’t love listening to ritualized thank you list recitation couched in a self-congratulatory three-to-four hour spectacle?), but what intrigues me is how the inane repetition of unnecessary words (and some barely qualify as words) can bring you closer to “native” quality speech. And conversely, how one…euh…how you say…misuse of filler can make you sound foreign despite otherwise impeccable grammar and vocabulary.

French 101 classes have been teaching “euh” (to replace the American “um”) and “bon ben” (kind of “ok…well”), “bof” (to express indifference “whatever”) and others for years now, but I think “du coup” flies under the radar of most American students and teachers. Go eavesdrop on some Parisians, however, and you’ll hear “du coup” punctuating the dead spots of stories with almost the same frequency that an American says “like” or “you know” or “so”.

See if you can hear it in this gamer-dude’s Youtube vid:

If you weren’t too distracted by the virtuoso use of steadycam (rivaling Birdman or Russian Ark), you may have noticed “du coup” and “alors du coup.” But what does it mean? Why are people suddenly using it so much? Should you start to say it? Can you even say it?

What does it mean?

Let’s see what French people are saying over at “anglaisfacile.com” where user Guillaume asks how to translate 

“Cette fille est laide. Du coup, je ne m’étais jamais intéressé à elle.”

He ends up with “Thus, I had never been interested in her.” ok…so…that…sounds…fluent. Yeah, “thus” . Just use “du coup” wherever you would use “thus”.

Let’s try another approach. Here’s a tweet that uses “du coup”

This basically says, “ok, so…got to go, so, night.”

Some people might say that “du coup” is  “suddenly” (like in “tout d’un coup”) or “consequently”, but the way it’s being used these days is more vague and less forceful, like “so…” Chances are, if you take “du coup” out of an average conversation, you won’t lose anything.

Why are people suddenly using it so much?

I don’t know. But a blog post by French pulp fiction/crime writer Claudine Chollet suggests that by 2006 it had reached epidemic status (her first sentence: L’expression “du coup” se propage actuellement comme un virus et contamine toutes les conversations.) Read the comments section of her post and you get the impression that it’s cyclical. An 80 year-old woman says that when she was young, she was taught that commoners used that expression. For 60 years, she claims, it disappeared, only to resurface and torment her again.

Should you start to say it? 

Probably not. Mme Chollet calls “du coup” a form of intellectual manipulation—an impostor of “consequently” that presupposes your agreement with dubious logic. Yeah, but I don’t care about lexical morality, you say. Oh. In that case, it depends on your answer to the next question.

Can you even say it?

Most anglophones have trouble with the “u”  [y] and “ou” [u] in du coup—especially in such close proximity. If you have to make a conscious effort to say something that functions as an unconscious tick, maybe not. On the other hand, if you can say it three times fast with a great accent and an effortless sloppiness, then go for it. Spread the virus.

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