For members


French word of the Day: Dépistage

This is a word you are likely to hear a lot at present as France grapples with its strategy to end the strict, nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

French word of the Day: Dépistage
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know dépistage?

It's in the news a lot at present, but it also has important wider meanings.

What does it mean?

It means testing or screening, usually in a medical or scientific context.

It's knocking around in French headlines a lot at present because many people think that the government's coronavirus testing programme has not been widespread enough.


So to use some recent examples

Coronavirus: un “drive-in” de dépistage du Covid-19 – A 'drive-thru' testing centre for Covid19

Dépister tous les résidents dans les Ehpad, est-ce vraiment une bonne idée? – Screening all residents in Ehpads [nursing homes] – is it really a good idea?

But the word of course existed because the current global pandemic, so you might find yourself invited to un dépistage gratuit du cancer du sein pour les femmes entre 50 et 74 ans – a free breast cancer screening session for women aged 50 and 74.

Medical tests

Some of the types of screening you might be offered in France include

Dépistage du cancer du sein – breast cancer screening

Frottis dépistage – cervical smear test or pap smear

Dépistage génetique – screening for genetic conditions

Dépistage du VIH – HIV screening 

READ ALSO The essential French language you'll need if you're ill



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For members


French Expression of the Day: Avoir l’estomac dans les talons

A sensation you might feel around midi after skipping your morning croissant.

French Expression of the Day: Avoir l'estomac dans les talons

Why do I need to know avoir l’estomac dans les talons?

Because you might want to inform your friend waiting in the long restaurant line with you about just how hungry you actually are.

What does it mean?

Avoir l’estomac dans les talons usually pronounced ah-vwar leh-sto-mack dahn lay tah-lonn – literally means to have the stomach in the heels, but it really just means that you are extremely hungry. A British-English equivalent might be ‘my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut’.

As with saying ‘I’m starving’ you wouldn’t use this to talk about people who are genuinely at risk of starvation, it’s just a phrase to complain about being hungry and wanting something to eat.

The expression probably originated around the end of the 19th century, and there are a couple of different ideas about how it came to be.

The first is that it’s intended to paint a picture of your stomach narrowing so much that it goes all the way down to your heels. The second idea proposes that since ‘les talons’ (heels) is a homonym with ‘l’étalon’ (stallion), the phrase might actually be referring to horse meat. You might be so hungry that the only thing that could possibly satiate your empty stomach is a hearty portion of horse meat.

Finally, there’s simply the idea that a person walking a long distance would have severe pain in his heels (or feet), and his hunger is so intense that it is as bad as the pain from walking a long distance.

Regardless of where it comes from, this expression is a sure-fire way to communicate your need for nourishment (or perhaps a nice helping of horse).

 Use it like this

Je ne peux pas attendre plus longtemps dans cette longue file, j’ai l’estomac dans les talons. – I cannot wait in this long line much longer, I’m starving.

Je n’ai pas mangé le déjeuner hier et à 17h, j’avais l’estomac dans les talons. Tout le monde dans le bureau pouvait entendre mon estomac faire du bruit ! – I skipped lunch yesterday and by 5pm I was starving! Everyone in the office could hear my stomach making noise.