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French expression of the day: C’est le pompon

For all of life's minor tragedies, this is one even old French grannies like.

French expression of the day: C'est le pompon
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know c’est le pompon?

It might come in handy over the next days and weeks..

What does it mean?

C'est le pompon is an old expression used by French grannies everywhere.

It's used about something negative and unexpected, which comes on top of a lot of other things that weren't great either.

Ah, ben ça, c’est le pompon! means 'oh, well takes the biscuit' or 'that's the final straw'.

Use it like this
Je ne le crois pas. Non seulement nous sommes confinés, mais là ils ont annulé l'Eurovision aussi. C'est le pompon! – I don't believe it. Not only are we on lockdown but now they have cancelled Eurovision too. That's the last straw!

Where does it come from?

Pompon is what in English is known as a tassle or pompom, “knit together by textiles to decorate furniture or clothing,” according to the online dictionary l'Internaute.

However most French people associate it with the little red pompom hanging on the front of the hats of French marines.

If you're in the south west you might hear c'est le pompon sur la Garonne (the river running through Toulouse).

Legend has it the expression comes from a visit of Napoleon III to open a bridge over the Garonne. It was such a windy day that the pompom of his hat blew off and landed on the river, giving rise to the expression.


C'est le bouquet means nearly same, but it's less used. It refers to “the end,” of something good – a show, a concert or a firework spectacle. Le bouquet was that dreaded moment when the curtains closed.

Another option, which has a similar albeit slightly different meaning, is the expression we got used to hear from the 'yellow vest' protesters during the height of their movement:

C’est la goutte qui fait déborder le vase – That was the last drop that made the vase overflow.

However this expression implies that there was an underlying social anger that now has been released (seeing as the vase is overflowing).

C'est le pompon does not imply any overflowing of the sort. It's more like saying that something is “the cherry on the top” if you strongly dislike cherries and the icing below was also not your favourite.

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French Expression of the Day: Faire la java

This expression is one to use if you see someone looking a bit worse for wear.

French Expression of the Day: Faire la java

Why do I need to know faire la java?

Because you might be looking for a different way to describe the fun times you had last weekend.

What does it mean?

Faire la java usually pronounced fair lah jah-vah – translates literally as ‘to do the java,’ which refers to a popular dance from the early 1900s in France. However, these days, the phrase is a synonym for the more popular phrase ‘faire la fête’ which means to party, usually involving alcoholic beverages and minimal amounts of sleep.   

In the 1910s to 1920s, when the java dance was popular, it was typically performed at big parties. It’s unclear where the term ‘java’ came from, as it has no connection with the island of Java. The dance itself was quite scandalous at the time, and it was seen as overly sensual and risqué. Though the dance fell out of practice in the 1950s, the phrase remained in use, which is why you’ll probably still hear French people, especially those of the older generation, talking about their wild times ‘faisant la fava.’ 

If you’re curious what the dance was like, here is a clip:

Use it like this

J’étais tellement épuisée quand je me suis réveillée ce matin parce que hier soir on a fait la java. – I was so exhausted when I woke up this morning because last night we partied.

Mes voisins aiment faire la java, ce qui serait bien, mais ils font tellement de bruit les soirs de semaine. – My neighbours love to party, which would be fine, but they make so much noise on weeknights.