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French expression of the day: Donner du grain à moudre

This expression is key to understanding the latest developments in the French strike saga.

French expression of the day: Donner du grain à moudre

Why do I need to know donner du grain à moudre?

It's an old expression with etymological roots in the very base of French society.

What does it mean?

Donner du grain à moudre means ‘giving grain to grind’ (du grain means ‘grain’ and moudre means ‘to grind’). 

It’s an old expression, dating back to the time when water mills handled the (crucial) job of grinding grain into flour that French people used to make bread. 

In order to make bread you need flour, and to make flour you need grain to grind. Donner du grain à moudre, giving grain to grind, is therefore key in ensuring that the mill can do its job. No grain means no bread, which really means removing the base of any French household – maybe even France's society at large (remember, the French revolution started when people ran out of bread).

How do I use it?

Over the years, the mills died out, but the expression survived.

It is still popularly used in France today, often in the context of describing the offering of a une marge de manoeuvre – flexibility – in a negotiation process. When used in this sense the expression refers to an act by a that permits a stagnated talk or process to move forward.

So let's say you have two parties that are stuck in a conflict – like a strike that has lasted for weeks – and all of a sudden there is some sort of movement, maybe just a little, but enough to spark hope that the mill might start grinding again soon.

Well if so, il y a du grain à moudre – there is grain to grind.

ll y a encore du grain à moudre pour les retraites – there is still grain to grind regarding the pensions, concluded a BFMTV commentator after a minor breakthrough in government talks.


A French expression that means the same is apporter de l’eau au moulin – to bring water to the mill.

Du grain à moudre can also mean ‘food for thought’. There is actually a France Culture show called Du  Grain à moudre that aims to tell the “news in a way that you might not yet imagined (..), far from the fake quarrels and sterile controversies.”

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French Word of the Day: Soixante-huitard

About one in five people of a certain French generation can be described using this term.

French Word of the Day: Soixante-huitard

Why do I need to know soixante-huitard?

Because it references a very important part of French history and culture.

What does it mean?

Soixante-huitard – pronounced swah-sahnt wheat arr – literally means sixty-eighter. While its translation might sound a bit like a sports team (ex. Forty-niners),  this term in French has an important political and social context behind it. 

A soixante-huitard is someone who participated in the famous May 1968 protests in France. With the backdrop of the Prague Spring and the American Civil Rights Movement and anti-war protests, French students and striking workers demanded a more egalitarian world in May 1968. 

This period of civil unrest lasted seven weeks and even forced then-President Charles de Gaulle to temporarily flee to West Germany. The events of this time have had a profound effect on French culture and politics. 

Around 11 million people – 22 percent of the population at the time – was involved in some way or another, and these days, those people are referred to as un soixante-huitard or une soixante-huitarde (for a woman). 

Though the term is typically reserved to refer to those actually involved in the protest movement, it can occasionally be used as a way to describe someone who has held onto the far-left ideas or sentiments from the 1968 movement.

Use it like this

Il a gardé ses convictions d’extrême-gauche longtemps après 1968. C’est un vrai soixante-huitard. – He held onto his far-left beliefs long after 1968. He is a true sixty-eighter. 

Tu pourrais être surpris que ta tante ait une soixante-huitarde. Ses opinions ont certainement changé avec le temps. Tu ne l’aurais jamais deviné ! – You might be surprised that your aunt participated in May 68. Her opinions have really changed with time, you would never have guessed it.