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In French, we have the word bêtise that I find surprisingly hard to translate. Bêtise (coming from adjective bête, "dumb") has different meanings, all related to "dumbness": its first sense is "default of intelligence", akin to nescience.

One of these meanings is more often used in everyday life: "faire une bêtise". Making a bêtise is making a childish mistake, like spilling a glass, breaking something, hurting someone and the like. When a child does something stupid, the child can go to parents and say "mom, I've made a bêtise".

How would you translate this in English?

"Mom, I've made something stupid" is the phrase that comes to my mind but I am not really satisfied because it does not carry the same context of childishness.

"Mom, I've made a mistake" does not really satisfy me either because a "bêtise" can be something that is not a mistake, something voluntary, planified, and without regrets.

"Mom, I've made a folly" is one that I found online, and to me it sounds quite good, but I fear it is not really commonly used by children.

What would a child say to his or her parents? How would you translate, in this context, "bêtise"?

As a footnote: bêtise is not only used by children. It can simply mean "mistake", or even be an euphemism for suicide, in addition to being a sweet. But I am more interested in an English equivalent in the context of childhood mistakes.

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    Possibly "boo-boo"? Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 8:56
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    or mischief (behaviour, especially a child's, that is slightly bad but is not intended to cause serious harm or damage)
    – Graffito
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 10:13
  • @Graffito Mischief is great! Thanks. Leaving the question a bit more to see if we get addtional answers.
    – C. Crt
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 10:18
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    I don't think "mischief" works here at all. Mischief is bad behaviour, not foolish/stupid. I think "I've done something silly/stupid/foolish", or "I've made a silly/stupid/foolish mistake" might work for the context you describe. You have to be careful here. Your 1st and 3rd examples are not idiomatic in English. You don't make something stupid" . . . you do something stupid. Also "folly" isn't used this way in English either. "to make/do a folly" is not really something a native speaker would say.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 10:28
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    Google Translate translates faire une bêtise as to do something stupid, which phrasing is perfectly reasonable - "Mom, I just did something stupid". Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 11:06

4 Answers 4

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I don’t know that we have a single noun that’s equivalent, but you can certainly use a noun phrase. As @Jeff Zeitlin commented,

Mom, I’ve done something stupid.

is 100% idiomatic. Or,

Mom, I’ve made a dumb, childish mistake.

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In British English, we often say a foolish mistake - the kind made due to inexperience - is "a schoolboy error". In US English, the equivalent is "a rookie mistake". But we say these about mistakes made by people of any age.

If you are actually speaking about 'inconsequential' mistakes that a child might make then you might consider "boo-boo" (eg "mum, I made a boo-boo") to show it is a minor error. Many parents teach diminutive terms to their kids (such as "ouchie" for a mistake that leads to them hurting themselves) because it can help to diminish the upset from it. Other terms such as "blunder" or "gaffe" can also diminish the degree of mistake, but are not so much associated with children.

If you want to talk about a more serious mistake made by a literal child and show that it has only been made due to their youth and inexperience I'm not sure there are specific idioms, but we'd certainly understand if you said "a childish mistake".

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  • Thanks, I didn't know boo-boo could be used in this context (I thought it was only for injuries).
    – C. Crt
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 13:48
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    @C.Crt That's right - Websters (chiefly US) and Cambridge (chiefly British) both list 'mistake' as definitions for this.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 14:08
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The word bêtise does also exist in English, with roughly the same meaning. But I don't think it would be used by a child; I, an adult, was not even aware of its existence before researching this answer.

One thing to know about the word mischief is, it's always deliberate. I don't feel mischief describes your example of spilling a glass [of milk]. It could describe breaking something or hurting someone, but only as a deliberate action. Mischief could include putting sugar in someone's petrol tank, or yanking a schoolgirl's pigtail.

Boo-boo is a term that fits, I think. It sounds decidedly child-like, and could describe small mishaps like smashing a vase or spilling yoghurt on the carpet. But it can also describe deliberate, but regretted, actions such as stealing a bag of sweets or whatever.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I think boo-boo works good.
    – C. Crt
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 13:48
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If you're looking for a phrase that a child could say, this would work:

Mom, I made an accident.

Mom, I did something by accident.

"make an accident" is not perfectly idiomatic but is something a young child could well say to indicate that they've caused some harm unintentionally, such as knocking over a glass of milk or breaking something fragile.

Note to "to have an accident", when said by a child, could mean that they didn't make it to the toilet in time.

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