French word of the day: Trompe-l’œil

French word of the day: Trompe-l'œil
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
You might have heard this in an artistic context, but in France it has a wider meaning.

Why do I need to know trompe-l'œil?

Because it's the best way to say that something is a sham in French.

What does it mean?

Trompe-l'œil means 'fool-eye', which is a literal way of saying 'optical illusion' in French.

It can be used to signify an actual optical illusion, but also as a way of saying that something is a 'deception', 'sham', 'bogus', 'illusion', 'false' or a 'hoax'.

For example, after France's local elections this weekend, French media flourished with articles asking whether the far-right Rassemblement National's hailed victory was une victoire en trompe-l’œil – an illusory victory – because it seemed big, but when you looked closer it really wasn't.


Famous French painter Georges Braque is credited of having said the following:

Ecrire n'est pas décrire. Peindre n'est pas dépeindre. La vraisemblance n'est que trompe-l'oeil.– Writing is not describing. Painting is not portraying. The resemblance is just illusory.

Use it like this

C'est un effet trompe-l'œil. Si tu regardes bien tu le verras. – It's an illusory effect. If you look closely you'll spot it.

C'est une baisse en trompe-l'œil du nombre de chômeurs ces derniers mois. – There's been a bogus decrease in the number of unemployed people these past months.

Ce n'est qu'un trompe l'œil. Les statistiques ne servent à rien si on ne comprend pas le contexte. – It's a sham. Stats are useless if we don't understand the context.


Mirage – Hallucination

Façade – facade

Faux-semblant – Pretense 




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