French word of the day: Bras de fer

French word of the day: Bras de fer
Want to wrestle? Read this to learn how to strong-arm someone in French.
Why do I need to know bras de fer?

It pops up all the time in French media whenever there is some sort of conflict.

What does it mean?

The expression bras de fer means strong-arming someone, sometimes literally. In that case, the expression refers to the physical exercise of arm-wrestling, where two people place their elbows on a table, clench their fists and try to force the others' arm onto the table.

Today, bras de fer is mostly used in a symbolic manner to show that someone is preparing for a use of force.

A French online dictionary defines bras de fer as a “brief collision between two people, without any possibility of discussion or negotiation” – which one could say is true for both the symbolic version of the term and a real, physical arm-wrestling match.

Bras de fer is a recurrent expression in French media. For instance, the headline of an article published today on the news website La Depeche describes the ongoing pension reform conflict like this:

Bras de fer sur la réforme des retraites –  [The government is] standing firm on the pension reform.

Another article by the independent investigative news website Mediapart uses the expression to describe how a French supermarket pressured their employees to work after 1pm on Sundays:

Hypermarché ouvert le dimanche après-midi: le bras de fer continue – Hypermarket keeps open Sunday afternoons: the strong-arming continues.

Last but not least:

After a 10-year-long legal battle, a Cantal farmer was sentenced to pay a €8,000 fine to his neighbors as a compensation for his cows' strong scent.


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