When you live in France and are keen to improve your language skills, every day counts as a school day if you stay alert and keep your ears (oreilles) open to nouveautés (new things) – additions to your internal dictionary that might be useful one day, especially when it comes to moving beyond the basics into a more casual and chatty style of communication.
Back in school, pretty much anyone with even the most basic linguistic ability and word retention powers was able to describe a small amount of something as “un petit peu”.
Spend some time in France, however, and as you go along you pick up alternative, more descriptive ways to ask for “a smidgen” of this or “a touch” that.
Maghreb Arabic word used in French
In the kitchen or at the dining table, you might hear people talking about how they added a little something to perfect the taste of a recipe.
For example – and this one came to my attention only very recently – someone said they had added “un chouïa de sucre” – to their dish.
Pronounced shoo-ee-ya, it comes from the Maghreb Arabic word suya, which first appeared in France in 1866 thanks to French repatriates from Algeria, and you may find alternative spellings in written form including chouya or chouilla.
Another word to describe a dash or hint of something is un soupçon, familiar to the Anglophone ear and literally meaning a hint or suspicion.
Soupçon can also mean “a shred”, such as in the context of evidence, ie: “Le document ne contient pas le moindre soupçon de preuve” – The document does not contain one shred of evidence.
As for a pinch of salt – that's une pincée.