The best non-French French word ever


{grosso modo} 
adverb |

roughly, circa or approximately

Dis-moi grosso modo ce que tu en penses.
Give me a rough idea what you think of it.

Actuellement, grosso modo, trois options se présentent à nous.
At present, we have roughly three options.


Grosso modo, ces participants ne considéraient pas ces dispositions comme très utiles.
Basically, these participants did not consider these provisions to be very useful.

Pronunciation [grosomodo]


Hearing grosso modo for the first time in French, I initially conjured up visions of a fat motorcycle – or “gros moto.” Images of Harley Davidson’s Fat Boy merrily sprung to mind.

Instead, as I learned, it means “roughly.” And everyone uses it.

Some people might think grosso modo derives from Latin and sounds Italian. These people are indisputably right. But French? Non.

Mais oui!

The French use this expression like Nutella on a crêpe – liberally and all the time. As I slowly adopted it into my everyday lexicon, I realized something: this is the best non-French French word ever. Its applications are endless. Grosso modo can mean anything from roughly, basically, or essentially to somewhat, generally, or “more or less” – depending on context. A distinctly French definition would be “sans rentrer dans les détails” or “without going into detail.” The French also say grosso merdo, a joking and slightly vulgar modern equivalent.

Although used in French and Italian, its origins are firmly Latin. Etymologically speaking grosso modo stems from medieval Latin, meaning “in an approximate way” – grossus (“coarse, gross” or “large, thick”) and modus (“manner, mode, way, method”).

Yet most English speakers have never heard of this idiom. In English autocorrect, it becomes “gross mood.” Because, of course.

I first heard the term grosso modo used in 2005 by my amazing, and amazingly quirky, boss at the French Embassy Trade Office – Eric Duchêne. He is the best boss I’ve had to this day. He would call me “petite mère” while dispensing delightfully colloquial phrases like “ça roule ma poule?” He nicknamed himself “vosgien à hublots” (or a guy from the Vosges Mountains with huge glasses) with characteristic, sparkling-eyed humility. Politicians, and others in power, could learn from such self-effacing wit. He may never know the influence he had on me – or on my French vocabulary. Grosso modo was a staple part of his vernacular. It is now a staple part of mine.

I hope it becomes, in all its possible iterations, part of yours too.


  1. culturedchaos says:

    I did NOT know about this phrase, for shame. Super helpful post – thank you!



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: