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French expression of the day: À fleur de peau

French expression of the day: À fleur de peau
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Having 'flower skin' in French may sound like a compliment on your complexion but is not actually very flattering.

Why do I need to know fleur de peau?

It's a nice and visual way of saying someone is being too sensitive. Plus it's very common.

What does it mean?

Fleur is French for 'flower' and peau means 'skin'.

However, fleur can also mean 'cream' or 'on de surface of', when using the right prepositions: à fleur de means 'on the surface of'.

The expression à fleur de peau, which literally translates to 'on the surface of skin', refers to 'being overly sensitive' or 'fragile'.

Fleur de peau is not the same as goose bumps (chair de poule in French), but rather an expression used figuratively to say that someone is acting 'overly sensitive', 'easily irritated' or 'lashing out'.

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French psychologist Catherine Belzung used it like this in an article she wrote for Le Monde:

Il est vrai que nous ne sommes plus les mêmes après ce confinement et que, parfois, nos nerfs sont à fleur de peau, ce qui nous pousse à avoir des réactions émotionnelles très marquées. – It's true that we are no longer the same after this lockdown, and that, occasionally, our nerves are on edge, which pushes us to react with very strong emotions.

It's both similar to and different from being a 'delicate little flower' in English, because à fleur de peau is also commonly used to express someone's (overly) angry reaction.

Use it like this

Je suis à fleur de peau – I'm on the edge.

Often people include nerfs (nerves) to say Avoir les nerfs a fleur de peau – 'having the nerves on edge'.

La colère était à fleur de peau dans la capitale. – The anger was lurking just below the surface in the capital.

C'est la période revision bac, ils sont tous à fleur de peau en ce moment. – It's the exam season, they're all a bit over-sensitive at the moment.

 


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