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French expression of the day: Refiler le bébé

Why, in France, giving someone a baby is a vicious thing to do.

French expression of the day: Refiler le bébé
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know refiler le bébé?

Because this kind of cynicism is typically French. 

What does it mean?

Refiler le bébé literally translates as ‘to give (someone) the baby’.

However, refiler is different from donner (to give) or offrir (to give) in that it implies that the item passed on is unwanted or dumped on someone.

Il m'a refile son vieux pull comme si c'était un cadeau – He passed on his old sweater as if it were a gift.

Of course, passing on a sweater is not the same as giving them a baby, which needs constant care and attention, poops all day and will keep you up most of the night.

Refiler le bébé means more than just passing over a task to someone else, it's getting rid of a problem by leaving another person with the responsibility – passing the buck, in other words.

If you feel like you have accepted a task too quickly, or if you changed your mind, you can try and refiler le bébé to someone who is more likely to succeed, or to someone you don't like.

Use it like this


Je n’avais pas envie de m’occuper des invitations, alors j’ai refilé le bébé au stagiaire – I didn’t want to take care of the invitations, so I dumped it on my intern.

On m’a confié l’organisation du festival mais je n’ai jamais fait ça, je vais tenter de refiler le bébé à Antoine – I’ve been given the task to organise the festival, but I’ve never done it before so I will try to pass the buck to Antoine.

Don't use it like this

Be careful, refiler le bébé is a pretty colloquial expression that should not be employed in formal situations. Use it with people you know.


Se renvoyer la balle – to pass the ball

Faire un cadeau empoisonné hand someone a poisoned chalice.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.