French Word of the Day: Gréviculture

If you've ever joined in some collective grumbling about strike action in France you might have heard this - but be careful using it.

French Word of the Day: Gréviculture

Why do I need to know gréviculture?

If you're ever in France and there is a strike on (which is not a wildly unlikely proposition) you might hear people muttering this to themselves.

What does it mean?

It means 'strike culture' or a culture of striking. In French une grève is a strike, while en grève is used to describe a person or group who is on strike. So you might see signs saying fermé en raison de la grève – closed due to strike action.

On days when there are big strike actions, such as Friday's public transport strike in Paris, you might hear people muttering darkly that France has a gréviculture.

When should I use it?

If you are going to use it all, we would suggest using it very carefully, as the word does carry some baggage.

For a start some French people can be rather sensitive about their country's reputation for being permanently on strike. When you compare days lost to strike action in France to the rest of the world France is often ahead, but not by a particularly big margin. There has also been a big decrease in strike days since the 1970s.

In France when strikes do happen they tend to be public sector ones, which are highly visible, widely publicised and cause a lot of disruption, so maybe it seems that French people strike more than they actually do.

The word gréviculture also has some associations with the far right, since it was widely used by Front National founder Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1995. In fact the term was coined back around 1900, but for some people it still has associations with the politics of the far right.

So this one might be a word to recognise but not use yourself.






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French Expression of the Day: Avoir l’estomac dans les talons

A sensation you might feel around midi after skipping your morning croissant.

French Expression of the Day: Avoir l'estomac dans les talons

Why do I need to know avoir l’estomac dans les talons?

Because you might want to inform your friend waiting in the long restaurant line with you about just how hungry you actually are.

What does it mean?

Avoir l’estomac dans les talons usually pronounced ah-vwar leh-sto-mack dahn lay tah-lonn – literally means to have the stomach in the heels, but it really just means that you are extremely hungry. A British-English equivalent might be ‘my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut’.

As with saying ‘I’m starving’ you wouldn’t use this to talk about people who are genuinely at risk of starvation, it’s just a phrase to complain about being hungry and wanting something to eat.

The expression probably originated around the end of the 19th century, and there are a couple of different ideas about how it came to be.

The first is that it’s intended to paint a picture of your stomach narrowing so much that it goes all the way down to your heels. The second idea proposes that since ‘les talons’ (heels) is a homonym with ‘l’étalon’ (stallion), the phrase might actually be referring to horse meat. You might be so hungry that the only thing that could possibly satiate your empty stomach is a hearty portion of horse meat.

Finally, there’s simply the idea that a person walking a long distance would have severe pain in his heels (or feet), and his hunger is so intense that it is as bad as the pain from walking a long distance.

Regardless of where it comes from, this expression is a sure-fire way to communicate your need for nourishment (or perhaps a nice helping of horse).

 Use it like this

Je ne peux pas attendre plus longtemps dans cette longue file, j’ai l’estomac dans les talons. – I cannot wait in this long line much longer, I’m starving.

Je n’ai pas mangé le déjeuner hier et à 17h, j’avais l’estomac dans les talons. Tout le monde dans le bureau pouvait entendre mon estomac faire du bruit ! – I skipped lunch yesterday and by 5pm I was starving! Everyone in the office could hear my stomach making noise.