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French phrase of the day: Être charrette

If you are someone who loves the adrenaline rush of running right up to the last moment of a deadline before finishing a project, this is the phrase/excuse for you.

French phrase of the day: Être charrette

Why do I need to know être charrette?

This is the phrase to use when you are explaining to your boss that everything will be fine, that your nose is pressed right up against the grindstone and you are just applying the finishing touches and you will indeed meet the deadline that is one minute away. 

What does it mean?

Être charrette literally translates as ‘to be in the chariot or cart’. It is used in connection with last minute touches to get a project finished before a deadline. If you're a devotee of Le Meilleur Pâtissier (France's better version of The Great British Bake Off) you might have heard frantic bakers users it as they apply the finishing touches to their two-metre tower of profiteroles.

What are its origins?

It started out as an architectural term in the 19th century at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Like students around the world, these ones typically worked up until the very last second of a deadline, when a cart would be wheeled among them to collect their models and other work for review.

Not willing to release the cart until they were happy with their model, they often applied the finishing touches when it was already in the cart. Author Émile Zola borrowed this phrase in his 1886 book about Paul Cézanne, L’Oeuvre. Thanks to Zola and others, the term evolved from its architectural setting and into common usage in France.

How is it pronounced?

Eh-t-re chah-ret


Oh là là, désolé, ce soir je ne peux pas venir à ta soirée , je suis super charrette. Oh my goodness, I cannot come this evening, I am up against a deadline

Bravo! Finalement vous avez terminé votre charette avant moi. Well done, you have finally finished your project before me. 

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For members


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.