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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

French Word of the Day: ‘Canicule’ (the most spoken word in France right now)

If you live in France there's no way you can have failed to notice the word 'canicule' popping up on every French news site over the past week. So, for today's French Word of the Day, we look at what it means and why it's so hot right now.

French Word of the Day: 'Canicule' (the most spoken word in France right now)
Photo: Deposit Photos
Why have we chosen the word “canicule”?
 
This word is hard to escape at the moment, with the word “canicule” on the tip of everyone's tongue and often several headlines on any one news site featuring this seasonal word. 
 
This week weather forecasters warned that most of the country would experience a “canicule” at least until Sunday. 
 
READ ALSO: 
 
So, what does it mean?
 
“Canicule” is the French word for “heatwave” hence why it is being used so much at the moment, with much of the country baking under a roasting sun. 
 
And while the literal translation of the English word “heatwave”, “vague de chaleur” is also correct, “canicule” is used just as often, if not more in France. 
 
And it is the word of choice for “heatwave” for French weather forecasters who define an official heatwave as three consecutive days of consistently very high temperatures throughout the day and night. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Expressions
 
During the very hottest weather in France, you may also hear references to the “plan canicule” (“heatwave plan”). 
 
These plans inform people to take action to protect the groups most vulnerable in the hot weather. 
 
French authorities take heatwaves extremely seriously, and it's little wonder. Back in August 2003, a heatwave killed 15,000 mostly elderly people across the country. 
 
Word origin
 
The word “canicule” has its origins in Latin. 
 
The arrival of Canis Majoris, the Dog Star in the sky at the start of the summer, the only season in which you're likely to get a heatwave, marks the beginning of the year's hottest months.
 
And the word “canicule” comes from canis, meaning dog in Latin. 
 
Examples
 
Here are some examples of how to use “canicule” in everyday life. 
 
1. Pendant la canicule, il est recommandé de bien s'hydrater et ne limiter ses efforts physiques. En été, nous avons souvent une période de canicule.
 
During a heatwave, it is advisable to stay well hydrated and limit physical activity. In summer, we often have heatwaves.
 
2. Face aux fortes chaleurs, le gouvernement a mis en place le plan canicule.
 
Faced with the intense heat, the government has put the “heatwave plan” in place. 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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