French Word of the Day: ‘pagaille’ – a word that’s been making headlines

If you have been in France recently you will have noticed the word "pagaille" being used frequently, especially if you have been caught up in some of the recent travel disruption.

French Word of the Day: 'pagaille' – a word that's been making headlines
Photo: AFP

Why have we chosen the word “pagaille”?

Basically because of the number of times the word “pagaille” has been making the headlines recently.

Indeed when it came to stories about the power cut at Montparnasse train station, or the story of the Metro passengers stuck on sweltering carriages for two hours or indeed a mass brawl between two rappers and their clans at Orly airport, headline writers repeatedly opted for the word “pagaille”, which is pronounced like: pa.gaïe.

So that's why it made our French Word of the Day.

So what does “pagaille” mean exactly?

It's not slang, but it’s a colloquial term for “mess” or “shambles” or even “chaos” or “bedlam”

So when more than 3,000 passengers were stranded due to a breakdown on Line 1, Le Monde reported the incident with the headline: “Pagaille dans le Metro.”

While Google translate opts for “Trouble on the Metro” it's probably more appropriate to translate it as “chaos” here or even “mayhem”.

It’s safe to say it’s often the term used by news outlets whenever there’s transport problems in France.

So when trains were recently blocked at Montparnasse station in Paris because of a power cut newspapers naturally referred to it as “Pagaille à la gare Montparnasse” or “chaos/bedlam/pandemonium at Montparnasse”

It can be used to describe a havoc in general though, unrelated to Metro or train breakdowns.

For example, when a shocking brawl between two French rappers took place at Orly airport in front of hundreds of stunned holidaymakers that led to flight delays, Francetvinfo reported the story saying that the fight “sème la pagaille” in other words “wreaked havoc”.

Indeed “pagaille” is often used after the verb “semer” (semer le pagaille) which means “to cause chaos” or “create mayhem”.

Other Meanings

Pagaille can also takes on a different meaning. For example, “en pagaille” is a slang expression to describe something as being in heaps, tons, loads, etc. ”Il y en a en pagaille”, translates to, “there are loads of them”.

And strangely enough the website also translates “pagaille” as the French term for hugger mugger (those people who pretend to give you a bit of love in the street by grasping you tightly only to rifle through your pockets and steal your money).

The site also says “pagaille” in French is a slang term for a “monkey-wrench”, which is more commonly known in French as a “clé anglaise”.


Quelle pagaille!

What a shambles/mess!

Une fuite de gaz provoque une belle pagaille au centre-commercial.

A gas leak causes absolute mayhem at a shopping centre.

La neige a semé la pagaille

The snow has provoked havoc.


Other commonly used terms to describe “pagaille” in French are: désordre, chaos, bordel, but none of them seem to be used as widely, at least by headline writers.


French Word of the Day – canicule

French Word of the Day – rude












Member comments

  1. I just did survey and forgot to add that I love explanations of everyday French expressions such as Pagaille” above, and how they are used! Such expressions are really hard to search for meaning so these detailed explanations are really helpful 😉

  2. Agreed! But one word I would like to see explained is “boulot” – it seems to have so many different meanings!!

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French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Being patronised by a Frenchman? Roll out this phrase.

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Why do I need to know ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines?

Because someone might be trying to take you for a fool.

What does it mean?

Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines – pronounced ne me pren pah pour un lapan de see sem-enn – translates as ‘don’t take me for a six-week-old rabbit’, and is a go-to phrase to warn people not to mistake you for a fool, someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The podcast Hit West from French regional newspaper Ouest-France suggests that the ‘six weeks’ comes from the age a rabbit is weaned at, and must therefore be ready to survive on its own.

And why a rabbit at all? Well no-one really seems very sure. Rabbits don’t get a good rap in the French language though, to stand someone up is poser un lapin in French.

English-language metaphor equivalents may be, “I didn’t come down in the last shower”, “I wasn’t born yesterday”, or, as Line of Duty’s DCI Hastings might say, “I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble”.

Use it like this

Honestly, keep it simple. If someone’s speaking to you in a patronising manner, simply say: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines.

Ouest France suggests that this is the ‘more elegant’ way to request that people don’t take you for a fool. It’s not offensive, but it might be a little old-fashioned. 


You can use the more basic version of this phrase – Ne me prends pas pour une idiote (don’t take me for a fool) or the slightly more punchy Ne me prends pas pour un con (don’t take me for a moron).