French Expression of the Day: avoir la flemme

French Expression of the Day: avoir la flemme
Photo: Depositphotos
This French expression has nothing to do with having a sore throat and a sinus infection.
Why do I need to know avoir la flemme?
Although this might sound like something you would say if you have the beginnings of a nasty cold, this phrase actually means you are unlikely to leave the house for a different reason: laziness.
What does avoir la flemme mean?
La flemme is derived from the latin word phlegma meaning phlegm or humour, and in French this word has taken on a meaning closer to the latter definition.
If you avoir la flemme (de faire quelque chose) it means you are in no humour to do anything because you can’t be bothered.
La flemme itself translates as ‘laziness’.
You might say, for example, Je ne veux pas faire le ménage. J’ai la flemme. (I don’t want to clean the house. I can’t be bothered.)
It could also translate as the milder ‘I don’t feel like it’, as long as a strong sense of apathy is still taken into account.
So if you say, J’ai la flemme de travailler aujourd’hui (I don’t feel like working today) it’s clear that rather than doing something exciting, you probably just want to spend the day sleeping or watching TV on the sofa instead.
And if you meet someone who has been overtaken by this kind of indifference to activity?
You might say quelle flemme! (how lazy!) to try and snap them out of it, or simply accept that they feeling paresseux/paresseuse (lazy) and leave them to it.
Avoir la flemme is an informal expression and a slightly more polite, although still fairly blunt, way to say you don’t feel like doing something would be: Je n’ai pas envie as in je n’ai pas envie de travailler aujourd’hui. (I don’t feel like working today.)
How can I use avoir la flemme?
J'ai la flemme d'y aller.
I can’t be bothered to go.
Je ne suis pas sorti de chez moi hier, j'ai eu la flemme. 
I didn’t go out last night. I couldn’t be bothered.
(The above examples are from

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  1. Pedantry Alert!

    The Latin term refers not to humour as in “you are in no humour to do anything because you can’t be bothered.” Phlegmatic is one of the four humours conceived by the Greeks and Romans to describe and diagnose a person’s physical and mental characteristics. Each was represented by a bodily secretion: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. People with a sanguine (blood) nature are active, friendly and outgoing. People ruled by yellow bile are bitter, short-tempered and daring. Those ruled by black bile are lazy, fearful and melancholic. (The term melancholic comes from the Greek for black bile.) Finally, those ruled by phlegm are low-spirited and unmotivated. The English word phlegmatic derives from this beliefs in humourism as does, I imagine, the French word flegmatique.

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