For members


French expression of the day: Faire machine arrière

If you find yourself irresolute, wavering and wobbling, you could be about to to this.

French expression of the day: Faire machine arrière

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.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Les toxicos

You'll want to be sure to only use this French expression in the right contexts.

French Expression of the Day: Les toxicos

Why do I need to know les toxicos?

Because you might want to avoid using this term if you simply want to describe someone as behaving in a toxic manner.

What does it mean?

Les toxicos roughly pronounced lay tox-ee-kohs – is the French slang term to describe “drug addict”.

The English equivalent might be “junkie”.

The word comes from a French word for drug addiction more generally. “Toxicomanie” refers to the physical and/or psychological dependence on chemical substances without prescription or therapeutic justification.

The official term for a person addicted to substances is “toximane” – and les toxicos is a shortened, more informal version of the term. 

In French, you can also use the term “dépendance” to refer to addiction as well.

READ MORE: French Expression of the Day: Les stups

Some may use this term in a derogatory way, though its usage depends on context and the person speaking.

Use it like this

Le politicien a critiqué le manque de financement de la police et a cité le fait qu’il y avait trop de toxicos près de la gare. – The politician criticised a lack of funding for police and cited the fact that there were too many drug addicts by the train station.

L’homme m’a dit que je devais faire attention en traversant le parc car il y avait beaucoup de toxicos, mais je me sentais en sécurité.– The man told me that I should be careful when crossing the park because there are many junkies, but I felt safe.