Joli-laide ou Mignon-moche

What is pretty-ugly or cute-ugly or even oddly beautiful?

I recently came across this wonderful French expression “joli laide” or mignon-moche. Translated joli laide means pretty ugly and mignon moche means cute ugly. It appears that the French derive pleasure in what we English refer to as character.  I love it and the sentiment that you really need to look again at either a person or an object to recognise its true beauty.  Perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be and who doesn’t like things a bit rough around the edges – OK – only me then?

In the UK at the moment everything is vintage this and vintage that. The word vintage is used a lot these days to try to infuse character and charm into an object . If it isn’t vintage, it’s retro and if not retro it’s shabby chic. For me there has always been something special about odd beauty.  My love of tut as my gran would have called it (tut – meaning nonsense or rubbish) was in truth born from necessity due to lack of funds. Purchasing second-hand clothes goes back to my teens when I had no money. Second hand was cheap but it was also unusual, it was unique, it was cool. It set you apart from the mainstream. My friends and I would scour the second-hand clothes shops in Leeds.  These shops had interesting names like Skythrop and Boodlam, goodness knows where they got them from. I remember purchasing an unusual fur skin coat from a shop called The Find in Knaresborough, the idea makes me cringe now and I would never purchase real fur now.  But I wore this coat every day until someone told me what it actually was, how naive was I.  Vintage clothes and vintage jewellery didn’t really have much monetary value in those days and so it was more the emotional value of finding something really unique that no one else had that was important.  It was about a style that no one else could copy.  I mean I was the only one with a black and white stripped original Pac-a-Mac at the time and my friend was the only one wearing her dads 1940s demob suit.  Fotor061464330Pac-a-Mac was a brand from the late 1950s,image it became really popular in the 1960s and was taken up by the style icon of the day Mary Quant in bright colours and stripes as part of the style of the swinging sixties.

And Barbara, a French friend of mine has told me of a lovely expression for that oh so adorable run down dilapidated property that we all would love to own and turn into our dream house.

C’est délabré?

And this one is for sale now in the Lot et Garonne for only 19,000€


So back to these wonderful “French phrases”!!

Joli-laide ou Mignon-moche

 In an article in the Guardian online I found someone who new of a similar term to `jolie laide’.  The phrase “mignon-moche” which translated means cute ugly, they had come across during a translation for French A-levels. Apparently It means something similar to “jolie-laide”.  This person thought that at some point someone had probably heard about the pretty-ugly phrase and tried to translate it back into French, choosing the wrong words. On the other hand I found another reference where someone else said they had used it for decades, yet their French teacher said it did not exist in France.  Anyway whatever its history I love it. And, what’s more France is full of examples.

la voiture Deux Chevaux par exemple.

Seen at Monflanquin spring faire

Seen at Monflanquin spring faire

Monflanquin Spring Faire

Monflanquin Spring Faire

And then there’s the dreamy Citroen DS



Or Gérard Depardieu

I suppose if we break this phrase down the subject is required to be both jolie (pretty) and laide (ugly). I read somewhere that the laide comes from the outward appearance and that the jolie stems from what cannot be seen externally and therefore what is within.  Daphne Merkin in the NY Times 2005 suggests that as an idea it represents a triumph of personality over physiognomy.  Perhaps in some instances there is an intent to the incongruity of the jolie and the laide, perhaps the subject is shouting, “look at me!”.  “I deserve your attention!”.  Perhaps those features that are not conventionally regarded as beautiful can be used to attract attention.  It is not unsurprising that the French though have an expression that attempts to describe what is indescribable that which is intangible and unique to the beholder.

In other words:-

“beauté est dans l’œil du spectateur!”

Anyone know if the French do have an expression for the above?

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