How did "coucou" (with its original "cuckoo" meaning) become a greeting in French?

  • Several times now, I have seen French people greet each other (via text chat) by saying "coucou". This appears to simply be derived from the word of the same spelling "coucou", describing the noise a cuckoo makes. I'm curious as to how this became a form of greeting. Does anybody know? Also, do French people actually say "coucou" to each other in real life or is it just in text chats that this phenomenon has taken hold?

    Le Littré dit *“Coucou ! cri que fait en jouant l'enfant qui croit être bien caché.”*

    I think the first usage would indeed have been to go out from hiding to amuse children, mimicking the way a cuckoo works(including hiding one's eyes with your hands as the cuckoo doors). This is same as "Peekaboo!" in English or "Kiekeboe!" in Dutch. No idea how it then became a greeting. I know quite a lot of people who use it orally too, myself included.

    The same sound (or its monosyllabic version) is also used as an informal greeting in Russian, typically in writing.

    *coucou* is an impromptu greeting.

    It appears in a novel by Loren Wilkenson spoken by a child on Martinique

    If possible please select the accurate answer, which is Laure's.

  • M'vy

    M'vy Correct answer

    9 years ago

    I will try a unsourced explanation, but it seems to me that the term "Coucou" comes from the Cuckoo clocks where the Cuckoo pops out the clock and greets you with a "Coucou" before going away.

    Plus this is an onomatopoeic derivation that is easily memorised by children, thus explaining why it is so common.

    "Coucou" according to "Le Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française" is: "_Oiseau du genre des pies, qui a tiré son nom de son chant._" So, it doesn't come from the clocks, but from the bird, which takes its same name from its own verse.

    @Alenanno Yes it's a bird. But you don't see cuckoo coming to your windows to say hello to you very frequently. On the contrary, the clocks are more popular and that is something you hear and see on a hourly basis.

    That might explain what @Joubarc said in his comment above. Are you saying what he wrote?

    @Alenanno Hm, did not saw this comment before answering. But yes I think this is linked.

    It is hard to know if this is the correct answer. I'm not sure it is wise to accept it without proofs.

    @Nikko I admit I'm no linguist. But I'm not even sure we can find proof of the evolution of the language other than the usage and customs.

    well I'm just asking for sources of usage in books for instance

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