Is this the most unpronouncable word in the French language?

Huileux.

Fitting that it means “oily,” because the word is impossible to get a grip on. If you listen to the very deep-voiced man pronouncing the word on the Larousse Dictionary site I linked to, you might convince yourself that he is saying something very similar to “wheel-euse.” But when I’ve taken that seemingly ever-so-slight tongue shortcut, French people have no idea what I’m saying. Their “huil” is pronounced with about three vowel sounds paradoxically strung together in the space of one syllable. My mouth cannot begin to recreate that sound, and the few times I have finally with great effort managed to at least approximate it, it’s proven impossible to get the second syllable to follow on the first.

The most frustrating thing is that I really have thought I’ve gotten it right on several occasions when I’ve contorted my mouth into ridiculous shapes and called upon every tongue and ear muscle I have. And yet, even then I was corrected.

So, I’m just going to say “pleine d’huile” if I ever want to point out how oily something is.

[Photo: Bobby McKay]

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5 thoughts on “Is this the most unpronouncable word in the French language?

  1. I enjoy reading, “the best of words, the worst of words” and your veiled reference to Dickens’ opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities. Bouilloire…I find is another tricky word that leaves me (a non french native) with something that wouldn’t be a miss out of a halloween conversation (boo-you-are)!

  2. Hi Ruth
    I too love the French langauge and had to laugh when you said:
    “But when I’ve taken that seemingly ever-so-slight tongue shortcut, French people have no idea what I’m saying.”
    That is so frustrating when you think you have it sussed…and ‘they’ just don’t get it!
    Regards. Marie.

    • What helped me put it in perspective recently was when another English speaker who didn’t know much French asked me about a phrase he kept hearing in Dakar. It sounded to me like “Semah.” I had NO IDEA what he was talking about, until finally on the twelfth repetition, he said it slightly differently and it dawned on me that he meant to say, “ça marche.” A slight variation in sound really does make a huge difference…

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