You may have heard the word "coup" in English before, in phrases like "a major coup" (a successful, unexpected action), "a coup d’état" (a sudden overthrow of a government), or even "a coup de grâce" (a deathblow). In French, un coup means "a blow," "stroke," or "shot," and the construction "un coup de + noun" can give rise to a wide variety of expressions. Un coup d’état, for example, is literally "a blow of the state," and un coup de grâce is "a stroke of grace."
Two very common expressions with coup are un coup de poing (a punch or "strike of the fist") and un coup de pied (a kick or "strike of the foot"). But coup doesn’t always have to refer to violence! In general, "un coup de + noun" can just refer to something that happens very quickly. It’s often used in sports lingo, as Caroline uses it in her how-to video on the basics of badminton:
C'est un petit coup comme ça, un petit coup de raquette.
It's a little shot like this, a little stroke with the racket.
Caption 33, Caroline - et le badmintonPlay Caption
And in French soccer terminology, you have un coup d’envoi, a "sending shot" (better known as a "kickoff"):
Une demi-heure avant le coup d'envoi.
Half an hour before kickoff.
Caption 29, Le Journal - Le footballPlay Caption
Have you ever been spooked by a "clap of thunder"? That’s un coup de tonnerre in French, and as the band Château Flight points out, it can be a beautiful thing:
Ainsi qu'un coup d'tonnerre
As well as a thunderbolt
Dont la beauté sidère
Whose beauty astonishes
Captions 10-11, Château Flight featuring Bertrand Burgalat - Les antipodesPlay Caption
And let's not forget the counterpart of un coup de tonnerre, un coup de foudre (a lightning strike), which can also mean "love at first sight."
In contrast with the violent coup de poing and coup de pied, there is the much more benevolent coup de pouce or "stroke of the thumb." This is the phrase for a "helping hand" or a "push in the right direction," and it’s also the name of a French organization that held a contest to benefit abandoned pets:
Un concours organisé par l'Association Coup de Pouce.
A competition organized by the "Coup de Pouce" [Push in the Right Direction] Association.Play Caption
Besides the construction "coup de + noun," two other expressions with coup are quite common: tout d’un coup (all of a sudden) and du coup (as a result):
Jai des images dans la tête et puis tout d'un coup ça devient réalité.
I have images in my head and then all of a sudden that becomes reality.
Caption 26, Melissa Mars - Ses proposPlay Caption
Donc du coup on devient très créatif.
So as a result you become very creative.
Caption 16, Les Nubians - Les origines et les influencesPlay Caption
The list of coup expressions could fill a book, but here are some more interesting ones:
un coup d’essai – a trial run
un coup d’œil – a glance
un coup de chapeau – a pat on the back ("hat’s off")
un coup de chance – a stroke of luck
un coup de fil – a phone call
un coup de soleil – a sunburn
un coup de vent – a gust of wind
un coup de théâtre – a turn of events
un coup de cœur – a favorite, an infatuation
un coup fourré – a dirty trick
boire un coup – to have a drink
faire d'une pierre deux coups – to kill two birds with one stone
We hope you’re not experiencing un coup de barre (a sudden fatigue) and that you will be able to tenir le coup (cope) with learning so much about this little word! If you do need to unwind, why not watch a movie? We here at Yabla recommend one of the defining films of the French New Wave movement, François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups (The Four Hundred Blows; the phrase faire les quatre cents coups means "to live a wild life").