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French expression of the day: Neuf trois

Are you a neuf trois? No, it doesn't refer to your age.

French expression of the day: Neuf trois
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know neuf trois?

It's a bit of slightly niche slang that's very much in vogue at the moment since making it to Hollywood.

What does it mean?

Well as even a beginner French learner can tell you, it literally translates as 'nine three' but if you're referring to someone as a neuf trois it's not a comment on their age or their size.

The phrase comes from the French system of numbering départements. Every département in France has a two-digit number that forms the first part of your code postal.

And French people frequently refer to their départements by number as well as by name.

J'ai rencontré un nouveau mec. Il est sympa mais il habite dans le 81e, donc ce n'est pas très pratique – I met a new fella. He's nice but he lives down in 81 [Tarn] so it's not very practical.

And if you're referring to a départment number you say the full number – so sixteen not one six.

But there is one exception to this rule – Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the three départements that circles Paris.

Its département number is 93 so people can and do say quatre-vingt treize. But if you want to sound a little more street you can also refer to it as le neuf trois.

Oui, j'habite dans le neuf trois, et alors? – Yeah, I live in 93, so?

The reason that neuf trois has gained a wider meaning is that Seine-Saint-Denis has a certain reputation.

It is the most deprived département in France and scores high on indicators such as crime, unemployment and poverty.

Not all of it is like this, of course. Paris' trendiest suburb – Pantin – is in 93, as is the arty area of Montreuil and the more family-friendly Les Lilas, but it does undeniably have some rough areas, one of which – Montfermeil – is the subject of the Oscar nominated film Les Misérables.

READ ALSO: Banlieue boom – No Paris suburbs are not all deprived and crime-ridden 

But its gritty reputation has also made it pretty cool – apart from the film there are also lots of musicians from Seine-Saint-Denis as well as quite a few footballers, including World Cup hero Kylian Mbappé.

So while people might not want to live in some of its more deprived areas, some do aspire to the style of the people from there.

So if you refer to someone as a neuf trois you're basically saying that their style is a bit ghetto or a bit gangsta, like the group below (and if you like what you see check out the Facebook group 'Rap du neuf trois' for more groups from the area).


Member comments

  1. It’s called Le Neuf-trois because that’s the way the police say quatre-vingt treize in in their radio communications.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.