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French expression of the day: A l’arrache

Did we do this à l’arrache? Read and find out.

French expression of the day: A l'arrache
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know à l’arrache?

If someone accuses you of doing something à l’arrache, you will be better to whip up a good response (à l’arrache).

What does it mean?

A l’arrache is French colloquial slang for doing something quickly and without care – ‘on the hoof’ or 'winging it' in English.

Doing something à l’arrache implies improvising. If you discover the same morning that today is your day give an important talk at work, your presentation will be made à l’arrache – last minute and not very meticulously.

Although it is not something to be particularly proud of, French people tend to sometimes use à l’arrache as a way of lowering the expectations of others.

Let’s say that you find out too late that you were supposed to bring a cake to a dinner party. You might use à l’arrache as an excuse when arriving at the party, even if you’re pretty sure that your cake isn’t that bad.

Je suis désolé, j’avais oublié donc ca a été fait un peu à l’arrache – I am so sorry, I’d forgotten all about it so I had to throw this together last minute.

However the most common way of using the expression is through criticism. A teacher might tell her student that:

Jean, cet article n’a pas de fond. Je sens que tu l’as fait à l’arrache. – Jean, this article is lacking depth. I think you did this on the hoof.

If you've got the time and aren't rushing off to complete a last-minute task, check out this hilarious video by Canal + where the main comedian does a little song about à l’arrache midway. 


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For members


French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Being patronised by a Frenchman? Roll out this phrase.

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Why do I need to know ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines?

Because someone might be trying to take you for a fool.

What does it mean?

Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines – pronounced ne me pren pah pour un lapan de see sem-enn – translates as ‘don’t take me for a six-week-old rabbit’, and is a go-to phrase to warn people not to mistake you for a fool, someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The podcast Hit West from French regional newspaper Ouest-France suggests that the ‘six weeks’ comes from the age a rabbit is weaned at, and must therefore be ready to survive on its own.

And why a rabbit at all? Well no-one really seems very sure. Rabbits don’t get a good rap in the French language though, to stand someone up is poser un lapin in French.

English-language metaphor equivalents may be, “I didn’t come down in the last shower”, “I wasn’t born yesterday”, or, as Line of Duty’s DCI Hastings might say, “I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble”.

Use it like this

Honestly, keep it simple. If someone’s speaking to you in a patronising manner, simply say: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines.

Ouest France suggests that this is the ‘more elegant’ way to request that people don’t take you for a fool. It’s not offensive, but it might be a little old-fashioned. 


You can use the more basic version of this phrase – Ne me prends pas pour une idiote (don’t take me for a fool) or the slightly more punchy Ne me prends pas pour un con (don’t take me for a moron).