For members


French word of the day: Arrière-pensée

Do you know what people are really thinking?

French word of the day: Arrière-pensée
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know arrière-pensée?

Because it's one of those expressions that you'll be keen to directly translate from English, but it won't make sense if you do.

What does it mean?

Arrière-pensée literally translates to 'behind-thought', which is the French way of saying that someone has an 'ulterior motive' or a 'hidden agenda'.
You can't say agenda caché (hidden agenda) or mobile ultérieure (ulterior motive) in French. It doesn't sound too bad, but a French person would not understand what you meant (they would perhaps even think you'd taken their journal and hidden it from them).
When you think about it, arrière-pensée is a pretty good way of phrasing it, as the real thought literally is hidden behind the expressed thought. It's not spoken, it's just a suspicion.
The underlying thought is not necessarily bad – it can also be something nice too – but more often than not the expression is used in the pejorative sense.
Use it like this
Tu es vraiment belle aujourd'hui, et je te le dis sans arrière-pensée. – You're really pretty today, and I'm saying that with no ulterior motive.
Pour ma part, j'entrerai dans cette discussion sans arrière-pensée. – As for me, I'll enter this discussion without a hidden agenda.
Il faut arrêter de penser que tout le monde a une arrière-pensée. – You have to stop thinking that everyone has a hidden agenda.
Sous-entendu is perhaps the closest synonym, but it translates to 'undertone' and means that something is 'implied' rather than hidden.
Another way of saying arrière-pensée is avoir une idée derrière la tête – having a thought behind the head.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

This French expression has little to do with storage devices.

French Expression of the Day: C’est le box

Why do I need to know c’est le box?

Because you might have described your adolescent bedroom this way.

What does it mean?

C’est le box roughly pronounced say luh box – comes from the longer expression c’est le boxon, and does not have to do with a container to store things. In reality, c’est le box means either literally or figuratively that something is a mess or disaster.

It is a synonym for the more commonly used French expression c’est le bordel

Both are slang terms that border on being vulgar, are originally references to brothels, and describe disorder or disarray.

The word boxon first appeared in the early 1800s in the form of bocson, which meant cabaret and later “house of tolerance”. Its origins are disputed, but over the past two centuries it has come to be synonymous with a “place of debauchery” and later messiness and disorder.

You can also say “Quel box!” or “Quel Boxon!” to mean “What a mess!” or “What a disaster!”

If you are looking for a less vulgar way to describe a mess, you could instead say “c’est le bazar”.

Use it like this

C’est quand la dernière fois que tu as nettoyé ta chambre ? C’est le box ici. – When was the last time you cleaned your room? It is a disaster in here.

Je ne suis pas la seule personne qui pense que c’est le boxon dans cette ville en ce moment. – I’m not the only person who thinks this city is a mess right now.