Oh la la! What does “Oh là là” really mean in French?
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Oh la la, it’s gonna be a hot topic here! Up there with “C’est là vie,” Oh la la is one of the most iconic French expressions that English speakers seem to have adopted. But what does it really mean in the mouth of a French speaker? Is there any implicit sexy meaning to Oh la la, as is often the case when the expression is used in English pop culture? And should you even say Oh là là, Ooh la la, or Oh la la la la?
In this post we’ll find out the real oh la la meaning in French, we’ll see what are the different scenarios where this expression is used, and we’ll touch on the difference between Ooh la la, Ouh là là, and other subtle variations of this fun expression.
To add to your enjoyment, we’re including several music videos with clear Oh la la lyrics. If you like this format to see French expressions in action, we can also recommend our related post where we showcase all the songs with C’est La Vie lyrics!
This post is presented by LingoCulture, the number one way to learn French online.
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Oh là là literal meaning in French
Oh là là is a famous exclamation in French that literally means Oh there there in English. Oh is a simple interjection and là means there. It’s always used as an interjection and doesn’t need to be conjugated.
Of course, the literal meaning doesn’t make much sense in English, and could rather be translated to Wow, Oh dear, Oh boy, Oh my, Oh my God, Oh no, or Yikes. It all depends on the context, as Oh là là has multiple meanings that we’ll explain throughout this post.
For once in French, the pronunciation is rather close to the spelling. Oh is pronounced like the letter o in French, while the h at the end is muted as always. The two làs from Oh là là are pronounced as written: /la/. To say Oh la la or even Oh là là là là like real French person, you should stress the Oh and have a rapid succession of the làs.
What non-French speakers think Oh la la means
When you think of the interjection Oh la la, chances are that you hear Lauren Hill’s voice popping up in your mind: “Ooh la la la! It’s the natural law that the refugees bring!” She made that loop famous back in 1996, on the classic track Fu-gee-la by the Fugees.
Or do you think of Dee-Lite, dropping a languorous “Ooh la laaa, la la la la la laaa,” while introducing their world-famous track, “Groove is the Heart”?
Or can you hear Alison Goldfrapp’s voice on her aptly-named song, “Ooh La La,” that went straight to the UK’s top-five singles chart when it was released in 2007? In that song, she says: “Switch me on, turn me up, I want to touch you, you’re just made for love. I need la la la la la. I need ooo la la la la”?
Yes, that’s right: when English speakers say Oh la la they want you to read something sexy between the lines. In English pop culture, the expression almost always conveys some sexy or flirty meaning. Like Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother” spotting his next conquest across the bar and saying to Ted and Robin: “Oh la la! Check out that fox over there!”.
But the truth is that you will bearly hear the French using it that way. If a French person uses Oh là là with a sexy meaning, it’s probably to make a joke, as a reference to the way it is used in English pop culture.
In other words, it’s only the likes of Britney Spears surrounded by a dozen dancing Smurfs who can get away with using the expression to say something like “Baby come with me and be my Ooh la la!”
Among the French, oh là là is not used as an adjective to describe something sexy. Instead, if you want to imply a sexy connotation, we might say:
- Cette robe est très Olé olé. – That dress is quite Oh la la.
Use it moderately though. Olé olé, which could be translated to risqué or naughty, is quite old-fashioned. You’d better use it only if you want to make a joke or be a little bit sarcastic.
What’s the meaning of Oh là là in French?
So if it’s not to be flirty, when do the French use Oh la la? Far from the stereotype it has outside of France, this expression can carry a large range of emotions. There can be positive emotions, such as amazement, but most of the time it’s about negative ones.
Also keep in mind that it’s always used as an interjection, alone or at the beginning of the sentence.
Let’s explore some of the possibilities for how we really use Oh la la in French.
To express surprise
Most of the time, if an Oh là là slips out, it’s to express astonishment and sudden surprise.
- Oh là là, tu as vu l’heure ? Tu vas rater ton train ! – Oh boy, did you see what time it is? You’re gonna miss your train!
- Oh là là, c’est super cher ! – Oh dear, it’s very expensive!
Let’s say you’re at a party when suddenly, you stumble upon someone you haven’t seen for a long time. You may say:
- Oh là là, je ne savais pas que tu étais là, je suis tellement contente de te voir ! – Wow, I didn’t know you were here, I’m so happy to see you !
To express appreciation
Similarly, Oh la la in French can be used to express appreciation, with a surprised or moved tone.
- Oh là là, c’est trop beau ce que tu portes ! – Oh my, what you’re wearing is so beautiful!
- Oh là là, qu’est ce qu’il est mignon cet enfant ! – OMG, that child is so cute!
To express annoyance and anger
Yet, most of the time, when a French speaker uses Oh là là, you can expect that person to be upset or annoyed.
- Oh là là, ça suffit ce vacarme ! – What the hell, enough with that noise!
- Oh là là, tu me fatigues ! Oh God, you’re bothering me!
To express sarcasm and incredulity
You must know that the French are masters in sarcasm. So, watch out for the irony if a French speaker is using Oh là là: that person could mean the opposite of what she or he is saying. It’s with the tone that you can understand the intention.
- Oh là là, mais qu’est-ce que tu es drôle – Wow, you’re so funny.
- Oh là là, qu’est-ce que c’est lourd. – Oh man, that’s so heavy.
To express regret and support
Another way to use Oh la la in French is when someone doesn’t have enough words to express sympathy, regret, or remorse.
- Oh là là, je suis tellement désolée d’apprendre ça. – Oh dear, I’m so sorry to hear this.
- Oh là là, je suis si bête de lui avoir fait confiance. – Dear Lord, I’m so stupid I trusted him.
To express embarrassment
Eventually, another proper way to use Oh là là is when you’re embarrassed. Let’s say you inadvertently spill a drink on someone’s dress. You may say:
- Oh là là, je suis tellement désolée ! – Oh my, I’m so sorry!
Variations of Oh la la in French
Oh là là in French has a few variations that you’ll want to be familiar with.
Ouh là là and Ooh la la
Ouh là là is a simple variation of Oh là là that can usually be used in the same contexts and to express the same ideas, such as surprise, anger, and sarcasm. There are no proper rules to determine whether Ouh or Oh should be used, even though Oh là là is more common.
It’s nonetheless important to note that Ouh là là is used in the oral form, and will rarely be found written in French texts. Ooh la la is the English written equivalent of Ouh là là.
Oh là là là là (and more là)
It’s also quite common to hear French speakers adding even more làs after the original Oh là là. Once again, there is no rule as to how many làs there should be, even if it’s common to count from four to six of them.
Oh là là là là là là is meant to emphasize that the person speaking is getting very annoyed, stressed, or enthusiastic. The best context to use this extended Oh là là is while watching a football match. Imagine that Les Bleus are getting close to scoring a goal: don’t expect impatient fans to be able to make full sentences, but rather wait for them to say (or better yet, scream) a stressed Oh là là là là là là!
Although it sounds similar, Ouh là actually has a slightly different meaning from Ouh la la and Ooh la la. Ouh là usually means Watch out, to warn someone about something that is about to happen.
Nonetheless, Some French may still just use Ouh là interchangeably in similar contexts to the ones we saw above for Oh là là.
While Oh là là is common enough in French, it’s not used as much as English speakers might think. More importantly, Oh là là in French conveys different meanings than it does in English. These Oh là là meanings in French depend on the context, and can range between surprise, anger, regret, or even excitement.
Remember also that, contrary to how Britney Spears may use it, please never use Oh la la as an adjective or a noun in French! And forget about any flirtatious Oh la la undertones in French. Oh là là, mais non ! Instead, just remember that the speaker may rather use this interjection to be sarcastic!