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French word of the day: Main-d’œuvre

Don't confuse this with a yummy dish or a handmade piece of art.

French word of the day: Main-d'œuvre
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know main-d'œuvre?

Because there are several versions of œuvre in the French language, but they mean very different things.

What does it mean?

Many English speakers will be familiar with hors d'œuvres, the term used to describe the small dishes ('nibbles', if you will) served with the apértif before a meal. 

Take out the hors and you have just œuvre, which means 'piece of work', usually an artistic work such as a collection of poetry, a novel or an œuvre d'art (artwork).

You could therefore be forgiven to think that main-d'œuvre means a 'handmade' something, seeing as main is French for 'hand'.

It's not far out, main-d'œuvre means for 'workers' or 'workforce', and the term itself refers to 'the hands behind the work'.

It's a common French expression that today is mostly used to describe 'manual labour'. Sometimes it is even contrasted with cerveau-d'œuvre, a newer concept that means 'intellectual work' or basically anything that you can do at a desk.

You will spot main-d'œuvre in French headlines and news articles, so it's good to know that the meaning depends on the context. Sometimes it can refer to 'manpower', other times 'manual labour' or just 'workers' or a company's workforce.


De la main d'œuvre au cerveau d’œuvre – From manual labour to intellectual labour.

Kylian, 18 ans, un bac techno en poche : « à un mois de la rentrée, les professionnels ne savent pas s’ils auront besoin de main-d’œuvre – Kylian, 18 years old, has a technical high school degree: “One month before the holiday is over businesses don't know whether they'll need manpower”


Dans un pays qui vieillit et où la pénurie de main-d’œuvre est chronique, le recours à des travailleurs étrangers ne fait pas débat. – In an aging country chronically lacking of workers, turning to foreign manpower is not spurring a debate.



Ouvriers – workers

Travailleurs – workers

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For members


French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Being patronised by a Frenchman? Roll out this phrase.

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Why do I need to know ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines?

Because someone might be trying to take you for a fool.

What does it mean?

Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines – pronounced ne me pren pah pour un lapan de see sem-enn – translates as ‘don’t take me for a six-week-old rabbit’, and is a go-to phrase to warn people not to mistake you for a fool, someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The podcast Hit West from French regional newspaper Ouest-France suggests that the ‘six weeks’ comes from the age a rabbit is weaned at, and must therefore be ready to survive on its own.

And why a rabbit at all? Well no-one really seems very sure. Rabbits don’t get a good rap in the French language though, to stand someone up is poser un lapin in French.

English-language metaphor equivalents may be, “I didn’t come down in the last shower”, “I wasn’t born yesterday”, or, as Line of Duty’s DCI Hastings might say, “I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble”.

Use it like this

Honestly, keep it simple. If someone’s speaking to you in a patronising manner, simply say: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines.

Ouest France suggests that this is the ‘more elegant’ way to request that people don’t take you for a fool. It’s not offensive, but it might be a little old-fashioned. 


You can use the more basic version of this phrase – Ne me prends pas pour une idiote (don’t take me for a fool) or the slightly more punchy Ne me prends pas pour un con (don’t take me for a moron).