Pronunciation: [o la la]
Meaning: oh dear, oh my, oh no
Literal translation: oh there there
Notes: The French phrase oh là là isn’t so much an expression as an interjection. It can indicate surprise, disappointment, commiseration, distress, annoyance… any moderately strong reaction to something that was just said or done. It can be strengthened with additional là‘s, always in pairs.
The first time I ever heard a native French speaker use this expression (other than on language tapes) was at Charles de Gaulle airport. A woman was looking at souvenirs when she knocked over a small Eiffel Tower made of glass, and exclaimed oh là là là là là là ! I was as surprised by the extra là‘s as she was by the accident.
Since then, I’ve heard as many as eight. My favorite, though, was the person who paused before tacking on a final pair:
Oh là là là là ! (a beat) là là !
Oh là là ! J’ai oublié mon portefeuille ! Oh no, I forgot my wallet!
This expression is often used in English to talk about something risqué. It tends to be misspelled and mispronounced « ooh la la, » usually said fairly slowly and with the first word comically elongated.