For members


French word of the day: Clope

You know how some things just feel more ok when you're in France than at home? This cherished French habit - albeit in decline - is one of them.

French word of the day: Clope
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know clope?

Because every self-respecting person living in France should know how to 'nick a fag/bum a smoke' in French.

What does it mean?

Clope is French slang for ‘cigarette’. Like the English 'smoke a cig', les français fument une clope.

French people love to smoke. Admittedly less now than before – the French too are increasingly worried about the health impacts of smoking – but anyone who has strolled down a street of Paris will have spotted elegant Parisians sipping their coffees while shamelessly puffing on a clope

Like fatty cheese and red wine, cigarettes somehow seem less harmful when in France, a statement of the French joie de vivre rather than what they actually are – a stick full of potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

So if you ever want to spice up your French vocab when asking to bum a cig, you could say 

Je peux te taxer une clope ? – Could I nick a fag?

Former French President Jacques Chirac enjoyed the occasional 'clope'. Photo: AFP

Where does it come from?

No one really knows. In the early 20th century clope meant ‘butt’ (of the cigarette), which slowly developed into a slang word referring to the whole thing.


Fumer une sèche – smoke a dry one

Fumer un mégot – smoke a cigarette butt

Fumer une cigarette – smoke a cgarette

Don’t use it like this..

Clope is something we can qualify as a tu-only word. If you’re addressing someone you would vouvoyer, you'd be safer sticking to: 

Vous n’auriez pas une cigarette, madame/monsieur ? – You wouldn’t have a cigarette by any chance, ma’am/sir?

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La montagne qui accouche d’une souris

This phrase might sound anatomically impossible, but it happens more often than you'd realise.

French Expression of the Day: La montagne qui accouche d'une souris

Why do I need to know la montagne qui accouche d’une souris?

Because this is a fun way to add in French fables to everyday conversation.

What does it mean?

La montagne qui accouche d’une souris – roughly pronounced lah mon-tahn-ya key ah-coosh doon sohr-ees –  translates precisely to “the mountain who gives birth to the mouse.” 

The expression does not literally have to do with mountains and mice – instead it comes from French folklore, and refers to obtaining mediocre or ridiculous results after embarking on an ambitious project. In English you might say it’s a let down, or perhaps a somewhat similar phrase might be ‘all mouth and no trousers.’

Dating back to the 17th century, la montagne qui accouche d’une souris was made famous by Jean de la Fontaine, a fable-writer and poet. In the fable “La montagne qui accouche” (The mountain who gives birth) everyone is expecting that the mountain will give birth to a city ‘larger than Paris’ and are subsequently shocked when it births a small mouse. 

It is meant to be a metaphor for expecting a lot and then obtaining something small or insignificant. You might see this phrase used as a critique for a policy or plan that was meant to create lots of change, but in reality has had little impact.

Use it like this

Ils se sont vantés que le nouveau programme social aiderait des millions de personnes, mais presque personne ne le connaît ou n’a été aidé par lui. Est-ce la montagne qui accouche d’une souris? – They boasted that the new social program would help millions of people, but hardly anyone knows about it or has been helped by it. Is this a case of all mouth and no trousers.

C’est la montagne qui accouche d’une souris lorsque seulement cinq personnes se sont présentées à la fête alors qu’il devait y en avoir cinq cents. – The party was a massive let-down when only five people showed up when there were meant to be five hundred.