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French word of the day: Doucement

If you hang around with French families you are likely to hear this word a lot.

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

Why do I need to know doucement?

It's a very family-friendly word and one that has a wider meaning than its simple translation.

What does it mean?

In its simple form doucement means slowly, so you will see it used for example doucement mais sûrement – slowly but surely.

But the context you are most likely to hear it in is when French parents talk to their kids, and here 'doucement, cheri' is a frequent instruction. In that context it doesn't always mean literally to slow down, but also to calm down, quieten down, play nicely etc.

It's not a telling off, just a gentle reminder to behave and not get over-excited, and one that you are likely to hear a lot because one French cliché that does largely stand up is that parents tend to have less tolerance of their little darlings running around shrieking at the top of their voices and hitting random passers-by.

But if a boisterous child does crash into you while you're walking in the park, feel free to respond with a gentle but firm, doucement, s'il te plâit.

Although its primary use is by parents, you can use it among friends if you want to tell people to calm down or chill out.

Doucement, mec – chill out, mate

Or if you have a friend who is gunning the beers like there's no tomorrow, you could tell them Doucement, meuf – ceci n'est pas une course – Slow down, girl, it's not a race.

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French Expression of the Day: Les grands esprits se rencontrent

Though this phrase has a close English equivalent, it's just so much more poetic in French

French Expression of the Day: Les grands esprits se rencontrent

Why do I need to know les grands esprits se rencontrent?

Because you might want to use this phrase the next time you and a friend have the same idea for how to spend vacation.

What does it mean?

Les grands esprits se rencontrent – usually pronounced lay grand eh-spreets suh rahn-cahn-truh – literally translates to “the great minds meet each other” or “the great spirits meet each other.” More appropriately, the very poetic phrase in French translates to the English expression “great minds think alike.” 

For the French phrase, it actually finds its origins with Voltaire. In 1760, he wrote a letter to another well-known French writer at the time and included the phrase: “Les beaux esprits se rencontrent” (the beautiful minds meet each other) to emphasise the fact that both expressed the same idea at the same time.

Over time, the phrase switched from ‘beautiful’ minds to ‘great’ minds, but the meaning remains the same. The phrase is usually said ironically in French, and can be used more or less interchangeably with the English version of this expression (which curiously has different origins altogether). However, sadly, the French version does not include the snarky reply: “and fools seldom differ” 

Use it like this

J’avais envie de pizza pour le dîner mais je lui ai demandé ce qu’il voulait quand même et il a dit pizza. Les grands esprits se rencontrent ! – I was wanting pizza for dinner, but I asked him what he wanted anyways, and he said pizza. Great minds think alike!

Nous pensons tous deux que la vue de Paris depuis le Belvédère de Belleville est la meilleure de la ville. Les grands esprits se rencontrent. – We both think that the view of Paris from Belvédère de Belleville is the best of the city. Great minds think alike.