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French word of the day: Trompe-l’œil

You might have heard this in an artistic context, but in France it has a wider meaning.

French word of the day: Trompe-l'œil
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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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For members


French Expression of the Day: C’est de la daube

A daube is a delicious and hearty French stew - but this expression is not something that you would aspire to.

French Expression of the Day: C’est de la daube

Why do I need to know c’est de la daube?

Because you might want to express your strong opinion on a movie/book/TV show you’ve just watched in informal but relatively polite society.

What does it mean?

C’est de la daube  – pronounced say de la dorb – translates as ‘it’s a piece of crap’ (rubbish, while a perfectly reasonable alternative, just doesn’t quite cut it) and is perfect for use in discussions about books, films and TV shows … there’s even a book about cinema called C’est de la daube (Chroniques de cinéma)

The phrase can also be used to describe things that have little value and can be discarded after use – or, basically, anything you want to describe as ‘crap’.

Famously, daube is a classic Provençal stew made with inexpensive beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic, and herbes de Provence, and traditionally cooked in a daubière, a braising pan. The question, then, is how a delicious and hearty stew came to be used to describe something cheap and nasty and best avoided.

It’s thought that this phrase has its origins in the kitchen. According to Gaston Esnault in his “dictionnaire des argots”, ‘daube’ in this less-savoury context is a 19th-century word of Lyon origin to describe fruits and meat as being ‘spoiled’, applied to fruits and meats.

Notoriously, French programmers who like the Linux system often refer to Windows as Windaube…

Use it like this

C’est de la daube cette film – it’s crap, this film

Ton opinion, c’est de la daube – your opinion is rubbish