French Expression of the Day: être à la bourre

If you’re somebody who has a small (or big) problem with punctuality, then this expression is for you.

French Expression of the Day: être à la bourre
Photo: Depositphotos

Why do I need to know être à la bourre?

If you don’t have time for a conversation but don’t want to be rude, or need to tell your cabbie to step on it, letting somebody know that you’re à la bourre will quickly explain your predicament.

What does it mean?

The word bourre actually means ‘stuffing’ or ‘filling’, derived from the verb bourrer (‘to stuff’, ‘to fill’).

To be à la bourre, however, has little to do with with this basic meaning; it’s actually a colloquial way to say that you’re 'running late' or 'in a hurry', the two usually being related (for more on how the French got from the first definition to the second, see below). It is typically used with the verb être (‘to be’), as in:

Excuse-moi, il faut que je m'en aille, je suis vachement à la bourre.

  • ‘Sorry, I have to go, I’m really running late.’

Si on ne part pas maintenant, on va être à la bourre au travail.

  • ‘If we don’t leave now, we’re going to be late to work.’

Essoufflé et tout rouge, il avait l’air d’être à la bourre.

  • ‘Out of breath and flushed, he looked like he was in a hurry.’

Je suis désolé d’être à la bourre, il y avait un bouchon affreux sur le périphérique.

  • ‘Sorry for being late, there was an awful traffic jam on the ring road.’

How is it pronounced?

This video should be more helpful than a written pronunciation guide. Good luck with those ‘r’s…


Given the logical jump necessary to go from bourre (‘stuffing’) to à la bourre (‘running late’), one can probably guess that the roots of this expression are sort of murky. In the absence of a consensus, the most common explanation is the following:

Etre à la bourre comes from a card game popular in the southwestern French region of Occitanie (around Toulouse and Montpellier), la borra in the local Occitan language.

One theory has it that a player who was behind (and therefore losing money) was a la borra, and that the expression made its way into everyday French.

Another has it that when someone was running late, the people waiting for them assumed that they had gotten caught up playing cards somewhere. Whatever the case was, être à la bourre eventually spread throughout the rest of France, and is heard all over the country today.


Etre à la bourre, while not vulgar, is certainly familiar, so it’s probably more appropriate for a conversation with your co-worker than with your boss.

If you need to say that you’re running late more formally, you can explain that you’re en retard (‘late’) or that you’re pressé (‘in a hurry’).

For more French Expressions and French Words of the Day you can CLICK HERE to see our full list

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.