French Word of the Day: Roman-fleuve

If you're feeling intellectual and want to display your literary credentials, we have a good phrase for you.

French Word of the Day: Roman-fleuve

Why do I need to know roman-fleuve?

If you're ever invited along to a French book club, or just like chatting about books, you might come across this term.

What does it mean?

Un roman is a novel or work of fiction and le fleuve means the river, but put together as a phrase it has a more figurative meaning than a novel about rivers (which would be kinda niche as a section in your local book store).

Un roman-fleuve is a series of books or an extended saga published over several volumes. Probably the most famous French example is Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Things or sometimes translated as In Remembrance of Things Past) which follows some of the same characters over seven volumes.

And if you think that sounds like a daunting read, Honoré de Balzac's La Comedie humaine series contains almost 100 novels, novellas and short stories.

But it's not just elevated literature that counts as a roman-fleuve, anything that is published as stand-alone books but which share common themes, characters or settings would count, so the Harry Potter and Twilight novels would also be considered.

The Harry Potter books, very popular in France, would be an example of a roman-fleuve. Photo: AFP

Does it have another use?

Although it's usually used in a book-related context, it can also be used to signify a very long-running story or topic, as you might use the word saga (originally a Norse or German epic story) to signify an apparently endless topic or tale.

So you might say Le roman-fleuve de Brexit se poursuit au parlement britannique – the sorry saga of Brexit continues in the British parliament.

Or J'ai écouté poliment le roman-fleuve du chef des ressources humaines de l'entreprise – I listened politely to the endless story from the company's HR chief.



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French Expression of the Day: Faire la java

This expression is one to use if you see someone looking a bit worse for wear.

French Expression of the Day: Faire la java

Why do I need to know faire la java?

Because you might be looking for a different way to describe the fun times you had last weekend.

What does it mean?

Faire la java usually pronounced fair lah jah-vah – translates literally as ‘to do the java,’ which refers to a popular dance from the early 1900s in France. However, these days, the phrase is a synonym for the more popular phrase ‘faire la fête’ which means to party, usually involving alcoholic beverages and minimal amounts of sleep.   

In the 1910s to 1920s, when the java dance was popular, it was typically performed at big parties. It’s unclear where the term ‘java’ came from, as it has no connection with the island of Java. The dance itself was quite scandalous at the time, and it was seen as overly sensual and risqué. Though the dance fell out of practice in the 1950s, the phrase remained in use, which is why you’ll probably still hear French people, especially those of the older generation, talking about their wild times ‘faisant la fava.’ 

If you’re curious what the dance was like, here is a clip:

Use it like this

J’étais tellement épuisée quand je me suis réveillée ce matin parce que hier soir on a fait la java. – I was so exhausted when I woke up this morning because last night we partied.

Mes voisins aiment faire la java, ce qui serait bien, mais ils font tellement de bruit les soirs de semaine. – My neighbours love to party, which would be fine, but they make so much noise on weeknights.