French Word of the Day: machin

If you're reading this, chances are you already know a thing or two about French. And you might have noticed that the French word for thing - 'machin' - keeps cropping up. So how is it used and what does it mean exactly?

French Word of the Day: machin
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Why do I need to know machin?

French people use this word all the time because it's so handy and once you know what it means — and how to use it — no doubt you will too. 

What does it mean?

Machin literally means 'thing' and it's used as a familiar catchall word used to describe anything you don't remember the name of.

When it's used in this situation it translates as 'thingy', 'thingummy' or 'thingamajig'. 

But machin can also be used to belittle something or someone, and is often used with irony. The idea is that if an object or person is described as a 'thing', they can't be very important.

For example, someone you don't like may be described as Monsieur machin chose which means 'Mister so and so'.

But machin can also slightly change its meaning when it's used with certain other words.

This is when it gets really confusing, so hold on .

There are a few other words in French that mean 'thing' and that are regularly used: 'truc', 'bidule' or 'chose'. They're not negative when they're used on their own but can be when combined with machin.

For example, je ne m'en sors pas au travail avec tous ces bidules machins choses! meaning 'I am struggling at work with all this stuff to do!'

Word origin

Machin comes from the French word machine which has the same meaning as the English word 'machine'.

But its origin as a deprecating term is often traced back to a speech made by the General de Gaulle in 1960, in which he described the UN as ce vieux machin. At the time, France was pondering whether or not it should join the international organisation as it struggled to cling on to its colonies.

Some other examples

Here are some examples of how to use machin in everyday life.
1. Il faut ranger ton bureaux, tous ces machins là ne servent à rien! – You must tidy up your desk, all these things are useless!

2. C'est quoi ce machin? – What on earth is that?

3. Il faut parler honnêtement aux gens et ne pas leur dire horizon machin chose – 'You have to be honest with people, and not tell them that things will be done at such and such a date'


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French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with beekeeping.

French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Why do I need to know faire son miel?

Because you might want to describe how you were able to buy a new wardrobe after the airline lost your luggage.

What does it mean?

Faire son miel – usually pronounced fair soan mee-ell – literally means to make your honey, or to make your own honey. In practice, this phrase actually means to take advantage of a situation, usually by turning a profit or to get the most out of a situation. 

The phrase comes from the idea that bees are actually profiteers: they take advantage of flowers in order to make honey. In the 16th century, this phrase was first put into use, and it followed the idea that bees fly up to the innocent flowers and steal their nectar and pollen for their own purposes. People began to use this as a way to describe people who take advantage of others or particular situations for their own benefit, or those who take things that do not belong to them.

Though the phrase is tied to the idea of turning a situation around for your own benefit, it is does not necessarily have a negative connotation. It can be used both for physical profit, or intellectual. It is somewhat similar to the English phrase of ‘making lemonade from lemons’ – taking a bad situation and making something good out of it.

In fact, French actually has another phrase that is quite similar to this one: faire son beurre, which is potentially even older than faire son miel

Use it like this

La compagnie aérienne a perdu nos sacs, avec tous nos vêtements dedans. Nous avons pu faire notre miel de la situation et acheter un nouvel ensemble de meilleurs vêtements avec l’argent de la compagnie aérienne! – The airline lost our bags, with all our clothes inside. We were able to take advantage of the situation by buying a whole new wardrobe on their dime!

Les oiseaux font leur miel de tous les nouveaux arbres plantés dans la ville. Ils profitent de ce nouvel espace pour faire leurs nids. – The birds are taking advantage of all the new trees being planted across the city. They are enjoying the new space to build their nests.

Le politicien a fait son miel des fonds supplémentaires et en a utilisé une partie pour son propre projet de construction. Ils pourraient le mettre en procès pour corruption. – The politician took advantage of the extra public funds for his own construction project. They might put him on trial for corruption.