Whether you’re in the middle of a Halloween scarefest or grappling with more quotidian fears, the French expression avoir la trouille should come in handy. Here’s the comprehensive guide to what it means, how to use it, and all its equivalents! Plus, make sure to check out the bonus content at the bottom of the post for derivatives!

 

To have the fear.

 

English Meaning

To be very scared.

 

French Meaning

Avoir très peur.

 

The Story Behind It

 

Hélas, etymologists can’t seem to find an exact root for la trouille, which means la peur intense or an “intense fear” in everyday French. So its origins remain speculative—or spookulative ? —at best! Nevertheless, here are some of the theories floating around…

 

According to the CNRTL or Centre National de Resources Textuelles et Lexicales (National Center for Textual and Lexical Resources), la trouille may come from a 15th-century word for “sputtering” or a later 19th-century term for “colic.” It could also hail from a regional word meaning “to release wind.” The references to flatulence and an upset tummy are hard to miss—and they’re understandable too! Who hasn’t felt a sudden bout of incontinence when overcome with sheer terror?

 

La trouille has also been linked to troil and truil, both old terms for a “grape press” or un pressoir à raisin. Though seemingly wide of the mark at first, the squeezing involved in extracting juice certainly recalls the bodily functions mentioned above, doesn’t it?

 

While its origins are unclear, avoir la trouille is a very common expression for when you’re terrified to the point of losing control of your body. Your fear could be triggered by a giant spider, a monster under the bed, a prank, or less tangible things like repeated failure or death. You might have nightmares, scream, faint, or—as this expression suggests—even need to buy a new pair of pants. Bottomline: if you’re very scared of something, vous en avez la trouille !

 

Notes on Grammar & Usage

 

Avoir la trouille can be used on its own, or we can specify the fear involved by using the following grammatical structures:

    • DE + quelque chose ou quelqu’un
      (des araignées, du dentiste, de la mort, de l’échec, etc.)

 

    • DE + verbe à l’infinitif
      (d’échouer, de tomber, de se retrouver tout seul face à sa belle-mère ?, etc.)

 

It’s important to underline that la trouille is colloquial. Though you’ll see it in the news and hear it tossed around a lot, in more formal contexts, it’s preferable to use la peur. This is especially the case with some of its derivatives, like the expression foutre la trouille (to scare the s*** out of someone), which is popular but vulgar.

 

Examples

 

English Equivalents

  • To be scared stiff / petrified / terrified.

 

French Equivalents

  • Avoir la trouille au ventre.
  • Avoir le trouillomètre à zéro.
  • Avoir les chocottes.
  • Avoir les foies.
  • Avoir les jetons.
  • Avoir la pétoche.

 

* BONUS CONTENT *

This beloved expression has also inspired other fear-related sayings—even a hypothetical scale of fear!

    • Une trouille bleue ?
      Literally: a blue fear. A very, very intense fear.
    • La trouille de sa vie
      The fright of one’s life.
    • Le trouillomètre ?️
      A hypothetical measuring device for levels of fear.
      Note: When it’s at zero, as in avoir le trouillomètre à zéro, this means someone’s fear is at a maximum. (It’s counterintuitive, mais bon…)
    • Trouillard(e)(s)
      (Adjective) Cowardly. Lily-livered.
    • Un trouillard / une trouillarde
      (Noun) A scaredy-cat. ?
    • Ficher / Flanquer / Foutre la trouille   Vulgar
      To scare the living daylights / the s*** out of someone.

 

• • •

 

Looking for MORE French expressions like Avoir la trouille?

Got you covered right here! Expand your vocabulary the fun way and impress your francophone friends by picking up French expressions!

 

© 2019 French à la folie.

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