French Expression of the Day: Être à l’ouest

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected] • 26 May, 2023 Updated Fri 26 May 2023 09:25 CEST
French Expression of the Day: Être à l’ouest
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression is one you need to know if you're feeling a bit tired and out of sorts today.


Why do I need to know être à l’ouest?

If you’re feeling a bit worn out today then this expression might well apply to you.

What does it mean?

Être à l’ouest - roughly pronounced eh-truh ah loo-west - translates precisely as "to be in the west". At first glance you might think that is a geographical expression, and while it can be used literally, it also has another meaning too.

For instance, you could say le soleil se couche à l'ouest (the sun sets in the west) or les Bretons sont à l'ouest de la France (the Bretons are in the west of France.)

But you can also use this expression to describe someone on a day when they’re feeling a bit off. If someone is à l’ouest it can mean that they are ‘spaced out’, ‘unable to pay attention’ or ‘not with it’, normally because they are really, really tired.  

For example you might hear someone complain Je n’ai que dormi deux heures, je suis à l’ouest aujourd’hui. (I only got 2 hours sleep, I’m really not with it today.)

Or talking about someone else, Il a oublié qu’on se voyait aujourd’hui. Il est completement à l’ouest. (He forgot that we were seeing each other today. He’s completely spaced out.)

There are a few different theories as to where this French expression comes from. Some believe is an adaptation of the English expression ‘to go west’ which during WWI meant ‘to die’ or ‘be killed’.


Others think that it comes from the days when Parisian theatres were all situated in the east of the city and actors tended to live in the west, meaning they went west to go home after work when they were tired.

Or it might come from the fact that the sun sets in the west bringing darkness, the unknown and sleep with it.

Use it like this 

Elle était tellement à l’ouest qu’elle à loupé son vol. - She was so spaced out that she missed her flight.

Ça va? Tu as l’air un peu à l’ouest aujourd’hui. - Are you ok? You seem like you’re not really with it today.


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