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French word of the day: Taf

This popular slang expression is firmly rooted in French everyday language, but actually dates back to the 17th Century.

French word of the day: Taf
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know taf?

It's a common word and you will definitely hear it if you spend some time with French people.

What does it mean?

Taf is French slang for 'job' or 'work'.

Un taf means 'a job', mon taf is 'my job'.

It's also a verb, taffer, which means 'to work'.

Although taf is popular especially among young French people, its origins are old, dating all the way back to the beginning of the 17th Century, according to French daily Le Figaro.

Back then, the full expression was faire tif et taf (do tif and taf) and it did not refer to work at all, but rather “the noise our butt cheeks make when they clench together out of fear,” according to the article.

Soon the expression was reduced to just taf, which was picked up as argot (French slang) and used by major French authors such as Balzac, Zola and Goncourt, under the meaning avoir le taf, which back then meant 'having the jitters'.

The 'work' meaning came later, at the end of the 19th century, presumably formulated by someone who didn't totally love his job.

As many French slang words taf is not necessarily always spelled the same. Because it is pronounced in a snappy way, with a short a and hard f, many people spell it taff.

Use it like this

Ca va le taf ? – How are things at work?

Ca a été le taf aujourd'hui ? – Did it go well at work today?

Tu taffes jusqu'au quelle heure ce soir ? – Until when are you working tonight ?

Elle taffe tout le week-end, donc elle ne vient pas. – She's working all weekend, so she is not coming.

J'en peux plus du taf il me faut des vacances. – I can't stand work anymore, I need a holiday.

Don't use it like this

Be careful not to confuse un taf with une taffe, which refers a drag of a cigarette.


Le travail – job/work

Boulot – job/work (colloquial) 

Metier – profession

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French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with beekeeping.

French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Why do I need to know faire son miel?

Because you might want to describe how you were able to buy a new wardrobe after the airline lost your luggage.

What does it mean?

Faire son miel – usually pronounced fair soan mee-ell – literally means to make your honey, or to make your own honey. In practice, this phrase actually means to take advantage of a situation, usually by turning a profit or to get the most out of a situation. 

The phrase comes from the idea that bees are actually profiteers: they take advantage of flowers in order to make honey. In the 16th century, this phrase was first put into use, and it followed the idea that bees fly up to the innocent flowers and steal their nectar and pollen for their own purposes. People began to use this as a way to describe people who take advantage of others or particular situations for their own benefit, or those who take things that do not belong to them.

Though the phrase is tied to the idea of turning a situation around for your own benefit, it is does not necessarily have a negative connotation. It can be used both for physical profit, or intellectual. It is somewhat similar to the English phrase of ‘making lemonade from lemons’ – taking a bad situation and making something good out of it.

In fact, French actually has another phrase that is quite similar to this one: faire son beurre, which is potentially even older than faire son miel

Use it like this

La compagnie aérienne a perdu nos sacs, avec tous nos vêtements dedans. Nous avons pu faire notre miel de la situation et acheter un nouvel ensemble de meilleurs vêtements avec l’argent de la compagnie aérienne! – The airline lost our bags, with all our clothes inside. We were able to take advantage of the situation by buying a whole new wardrobe on their dime!

Les oiseaux font leur miel de tous les nouveaux arbres plantés dans la ville. Ils profitent de ce nouvel espace pour faire leurs nids. – The birds are taking advantage of all the new trees being planted across the city. They are enjoying the new space to build their nests.

Le politicien a fait son miel des fonds supplémentaires et en a utilisé une partie pour son propre projet de construction. Ils pourraient le mettre en procès pour corruption. – The politician took advantage of the extra public funds for his own construction project. They might put him on trial for corruption.