Faire les quatre cents coups

Wild and Crazy French Expression

Faire les 400 coups
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Meaning to live a wild life, sow one’s wild oats
Literally to do the four hundred things
Register informal
Pronunciation French sound files [fehr lay kat(reu) sa(n) coo]
IPA   [fɛʀ ke katʀə sã ku]

Usage notes: The French expression faire les quatre cents coups is incomprehensible at first glance. What does coup, one of the most polysemous French words, mean here … punch? shot? blow? shock? bang? And how can a person possibly do or make 400 of them? It’s unfortunate that whoever translated François Truffaut’s directorial début Les Quatre Cents Coups apparently didn’t spend any time thinking about this when they used "The 400 Blows" for the English title, which makes zero sense.

In fact, the coups in question in this French idiom don’t have a simple English equivalent. Faire les 400 coups means to lead a wild life, to do whatever one feels like in order to have a good time, regardless of societal norms or even legality. The coups can be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, anything from playing hooky to partying to stealing money – whatever it takes to have fun and enjoy life on your own terms. So with that in mind, a better translation for the movie would be something like "Wild Oats" or "Raising Hell," n’est-ce pas ?

Par exemple…

Mon fils a fait les 400 coups pendant deux ans.   My son lived a wild life for two years.
Est-ce vraiment nécessaire de faire les 400 coups avant de te marier ?   Is it really necessary to sow your wild oats before getting married?

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Faire les quatre cents coups

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