French Expression of the Day: Ne pas arriver à la cheville de quelqu’un

If you live in France, you may have heard someone saying dismissively that a person "n'arrive pas à la cheville de quelqu'un". Here's a look at what it means and how it's used.

French Expression of the Day: Ne pas arriver à la cheville de quelqu'un
Photo: Deposit photos

Why have we chosen the expression? 

We noticed the expression in a news headline this week (see pic below) that was discussing an opinion poll that compared the popularity of the current leader of the centre right Republicans party compared to ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who remains a popular figure on the right.

Current leader Laurent Wauquiez “n'arrive pas à la cheville de Sarkozy” the opinion poll revealed.



So, what does it mean?

The expression literally means that a person does not come close to someone's ankles.

This expression is used to compare two people in a pejorative way – saying they don't come up to their ankles infers they are very inferior to the other person. So the real meaning of the headline above is that a survey revealed that people did not like Wauquiez nearly as much as Sarkozy. 

There is another similar expression in French with the exact same meaning is “Il ne lui arrive pas à la ceinture” (he doesn't come close to his belt).

In English we would say that a person cannot “hold a candle to someone”. So poor old Laurent Wauquiez is just not in the same league as old Sarko.

Word origin

Although this expression is thought to date back to the 18th century, it is commonly used in everyday written and spoken French.


1. Ce danseur est très bon, mais il n'arrive pas à la cheville de Michael Jackson.

This dancer is very good, but he's not anywhere as good as Michael Jackson.

2. Un an après le lancement de ce nouveau produit, la concurrence ne lui arrive toujours pas à la cheville.

One year after the launch of this new product, the competition is still nowhere near as good.

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French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

This is definitely not lip synching.

French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

Why do I need to know Chanter faux ?

Because if you were not blessed with a beautiful singing voice, then this might be a good phrase to know. 

What does it mean?

Chanter faux – pronounced shahn-tay foe – literally means to ‘fake sing.’ You might assume this expression would mean ‘lip sync’ in French, but its true meaning is to sing out of tune. (Lip synching is chanter en playback).

It joins a chorus of other French expressions about bad singing, like chanter comme une casserole (to sing like a saucepan) or chanter comme une seringue (to sing like a siren).  

Chanter faux is actually the most correct way to describe someone being off key, so it might be a better option than comparing another’s voice to a cooking utensil. 

You might have seen this expression pop up recently amid the drought, as people call for rain dances and rain singing (where there is no shame in singing badly).

Use it like this

Pendant l’audition pour la pièce, Sarah a chanté faux. Malheureusement, elle n’a pas obtenu le rôle. – During her audition for the play, Sarah sang out of tune. Sadly, she did not get a role.

Si on fait un karaoké, tu verras comme je chante mal. Je chante vraiment faux, mais je m’en fiche. Il s’agit de s’amuser. – If we do karaoke you will see how badly I sing. I am really out of tune, but I don’t care. It’s all about having fun.