French Expression of the Day: Par-dessus la jambe

French Expression of the Day: Par-dessus la jambe
Feeling uninspired, under motivated and definitely not looking forward to going back to work? We have just the phrase for you!

Why do I need to know par-dessus la jambe?

If you're not really bothered about something, then 'par-dessus la jambe' is an expression that may come in handy for you.

So what does it mean?

Par-dessus la jambe, literally translating to 'above the leg', means off-handedly or in a slipshod fashion. When French people complete a task a bit too carelessly, they would say they did it par-dessus la jambe.

Le plombier a vraiment réparé cette fuite par-dessus la jambe! – The plumber really fixed this in a slipshold way!

This can also describe the way a person is considered, but it less widespread than the first use.

Ce médecin traite ses patients par-dessus la jambe. – This practitioner takes care of his patients off-handedly.

But where does it come from?

In the 1600s, games called le jeu du volant and le jeu de paume, basically ancestors of badminton, were widespread in France. Some players used a serving technique which consisted in throwing the shuttlecock by hitting it from under your leg, par-dessous la jambe.


Picture: WikiCommons

If a player tried his luck with this unorthodox technique, this usually indicated that he considered his adversary was so bad he could play however he wanted and still win the game.

Over time and because of phonetic distortions, par-dessous la jambe – under – became par-dessus la jambe – above.

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