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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