One of the interesting things about learning French with native speakers all around me is their use of words that they never teach you at school. Take terrible for example. It has the same meaning as the English word, but is pronounced “tair-ree-ble”. However, terrible can also mean good. I know that in English we’ve got slang words for good such as “phat” and “cool” but they don’t mean the opposite of good.
If, for example, someone says to me that they’ve been given a pay rise, I could say: “Ah bon? C’est terrible. (“Oh really? That’s great”). I’m still loathe to use such a phrase when someone says they have a new haircut. However, it all goes downhill from there. Take the following phrases:
“C’est pas terrible” (“It’s not good”)
“C’est pas si terrible” (“It’s not so bad”)
That’s right, if it’s not hard enough to learn that a negative word means a positive, you then have to remember that adding in a “pas” which basically means “not” changes the phrase again to mean it’s not good, and then including just two extra letters, “si“, flips the meaning yet again from negative to positive. Confused? Join the club.
So, when someone uses a phrase with “terrible” in it, make sure you listen very, very closely. Or do as I do: raise your eyebrows, purse your lips and make a short “mm” sound. Works every time, even if I have no idea what’s going on.