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Word of the day: Mal barré

It used to be a sailor's expression, but today it probably just means that you're in trouble.

Word of the day: Mal barré

Why do I need to know mal barré?

You may want to use it to say (fondly) that someone is screwed.

So, what does it mean?

At its origin, être mal barré was a way for French sailors to say that the captain wasn't steering a straight course. 

Today the expression is more commonly used in French language (also by those who have never set foot on a boat) as a way of expressing that something is going wrong, or that someone is in (deep) trouble.

Je suis mal barré – I'm in trouble.

C'est mal barré – things are looking bad.

Ce mariage commence à être mal barré – This wedding is starting to look iffy..

In these cases, the être mal barré takes the same meaning as another common expression: c'est fichu – it's over/it won't work. (Another, very informal, option is c'est foutu.)

Any other options?

Etre mal barré can have different meanings depending on the context.

It can be used to say that someone is in bad shape physically, like in this (slightly dramatic) paragraph from the book Sauve-toi, Lola (Save yourself, Lola), taken from a French online dictionary:

Jeanne ignorait si les malades sélectionnés étaient ceux qui avaient le plus de chances de s'en sortir ou, au contraire, les plus mal barrés, ceux sur qui les autres traitements avaient échoué. – Jeanne didn’t know if the chosen sick people where those with the highest chance of surviving or, on the contrary, those in worst shape, the ones where all medical treatments had failed.

Being mal barré isn't necessarily this dramatic, though. You may also want use the expression to kindly tell a good friend that they're a little crazy. For example:

Tu espères devenir Président de la République en passant tes journées sur le canapé? Tu es mal barré mon pote. – You think you can become the President of France by spending your days slouching on the couch? You're nuts, mate.

For more French words and expressions like Mon pote, head to our French word of the Day section.

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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.