French expression of the day: Faire machine arrière

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 2 Dec, 2019 Updated Mon 2 Dec 2019 15:01 CEST
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If you find yourself irresolute, wavering and wobbling, you could be about to to this.


Why do I need to know faire machine arrière?

Because as France is gearing up for what will be highly disruptive strikes starting on December 5th, the question on everyone's lips is whether the French government will faire machine arrière? 

What does it mean?

To explain what this means, let's go back to the origins of the expression. Faire machine arrière ('make a machine go backwards') was originally used during the 19th century in a very literal sense to describe the process of making a steam engine or a propeller turn the other way.

Today the expression is mostly used to in this figurative sense to describe human acts of backpedaling or retreat. It's frequently used about politicians who change their minds or go back on their promises. 

Another expression you could use in the same way is faire marche arrière (which means the same thing), rétropedalage (backpedaling), renoncer (abandon) or faire demi-tour (make a U-turn). 

So if you were a French political commentator and strike action was looming, you might be asking yourself: le gouvernement fera-t-il machine arrière? - Will the government make a U-turn?

Or to put it more simply il avait fait machine arrière - he gave up.

But the expression can also be used in the more literal sense to describe the physical action of backing off or turning around, like in this Twitter post:



"Unusual situation: A national police vehicle blocked by Extinction Rebellion protesters. For 10 minutes.. Until they had to back off."



The Local 2019/12/02 15:01

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