For members


French phrase of the Day: A vol d’oiseau

This little birdy may become very important in your life over the coming months.

French phrase of the Day: A vol d'oiseau
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know à vol d’oiseau?

It's a fairly common phrase at all times, but it's taken on a new significance for daily life in France in recent days.

What does it mean?

It means 'as the bird flies' more usually expressed in English as 'as the crow flies' so really means a journey distance that is measured directly, rather than measuring the distance travelled along a road or path.

In France the bird type is non specific un oiseau (a bird) rather than un corbeau (a crow) and no, we have no idea why crows are used in the English phrase – do they fly particularly straight? Do they have the bird equivalent of sat nav? Feel free to email us and explain.

You are likely to hear à vol d'oiseau a lot at the moment, because of new rules on travel that mean people in France can only travel 100km from their homes unless they have a form for essential travel. But crucially the distance from home is measured à vol d'oiseau, rather than the distance you would travel by road/rail/bike path.

100km from Poitiers measured 'as the bird flies'.

So some recent headlines on the subject have included:

Distance de 100km à vol d'oiseau: quels sont les outils pour calculer la zone? – Distance of 100km as the crow flies; what are the tools for calculating the area?

Comment calculer le périmètre de 100 km à vol d’oiseau autour de chez vous? – How to calculate the limit of 100km as the crow flies from your home.


Far from being useful birds with a good sense of direction, crows have a very different place in the French language.

In French un corbeau can also mean a poison pen letter writer, or anyone sending anonymous threats or making malicious accusations.

It refers to the 1943 French film Le Corbeau which features a small town struck by a plague of anonymous letter writing.

In more recent popular culture, if you have seen the Netflix documentary Grégory about the murder case of four-year-old Grégory Villemin (and if you haven't seen it, we highly recommend it) you will see numerous references to le corbeau who targets the family with anonymous letters.


Member comments

  1. The earliest known citation of the phrase, which explicitly defines its meaning, comes in The London Review Of English And Foreign Liturature, by W. Kenrick – 1767:

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La clim’

You'll definitely want to know about this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: La clim'

Why do I need to know la clim’?

Because the lack of green spaces in cities might find you looking desperately for fresh air.

What does it mean?

La clim’, pronounced la-cleem, means air conditioning, it is a shortened version of la climatisation.

Climatisation comes from the word climatiseur, which itself comes from Klima in Greek and means the inclination of planet Earth from the equator to the poles. This inclination of the planet on its axis is responsible for the seasons and if you find yourself in a French city in August your inclination will definitely be towards climatisation.

Air-conditioning in private homes is not common France, some hotels have it but not all and in the summer months restaurants will often advertise air-con if they have it, as a way of luring in hot-and-bothered tourists.

If you find yourself desperate for cool air, head to a supermarket – almost all French supermarkets are air-conditioned in the summer. Or for a more fun option just head to the nearest city fountain or water feature and join the locals who are splashing around to cool off.

Use it like this

Il fait très chaud, avez-vous la clim’ dans votre hotel ? – It’s really hot, do you have air-con in the hotel?

Je n’aime pas mettre la clim’ en route car cela est mauvais pour la santé et l’environnement – I don’t like turning on the AC, it’s bad for my health and for the environment

Il fait froid, peut-on s’il vous plait éteindre la clim’ ? – It’s cold, could  we turn off the air-con?

La clim’ fait beaucoup de bruit, pouvons-nous la mettre en sourdine ? – This AC is really noisy, could we turn it down?


Un climatiseur – the formal name for an air-conditioner (in French the air conditioning is feminine by the air conditioner is masculine)

Un ventilateur – a ventilator

Un Brumisateur – a ‘fogger’ – these machines which pump out cool water vapour are often seen on the streets and in parks during the summer

Un Rafraichisseur d’air – an air freshener