French Expression of the Day: Au pif

French Expression of the Day: Au pif
If you don't feel like being painstakingly accurate or just want to trust your gut, then 'au pif' is the expression for you.
Why do I need to know au pif?
French people might try to wild guess all sorts of things, and when they do have, they have a dedicated expression for it. If you want to take your shot in the dark in French, keep on reading. 
So, what does it mean?
The expression au pif means 'at random', 'at a rough guess' and 'off the top of your head'. Pif is a slang word for nez – nose. This expression is based on the idea of flair and instinct.
For example, when cooking you might say: Pour les ingrédients, j'y vais au pif! –  I'm adding ingredients at a rough guess!
Or, when guessing someone's age, Au pif, je dirais qu'il a 40 ans!  – Guesstimating, I would say he is 40!
A slight variant of the expression is au pifomètre ('intuition'), which relies on the image of a certain kind of measurement, literally a intuition thermometer – Au pifomètre, je dirais au'il est 9 heures. – Off the top of my head, I would say it is 9 am.
The expression, while informal, is not rude or impolite but it does give you a laid-back, sometimes careless attitude – for example, you can't tell your boss you are doing something au pif or else you will get in trouble.
Au pif is not the only saying  that can be used when guessing or choosing something at random, you could also use  à vue de nez – 'approximately', which also comes from this idea of flair, au doigt mouillé – by rule of thumb, or au petit bonheur la chance – haphazardly.
Where you may have heard pif before
If the word pif is mainly used when referring to one's nose, it can also be a slang word for wine, especially red wine. There is also 'Pif le chien', a famous cartoon dog created in the 1950s that is still published to this day.


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.