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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French word of the day: Blocus

This expression is key to better understand France's (in)famous strikes and general reputation for rebellion.

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

Why do I need to know blocus?

Because it's key to understand French strike culture, which – if you follow France's news – will know is crucial to the country's identity.

What does it mean?

Blocus translates to 'blockade', and is an old war concept where military would block strategic entries or passage points in order to weaken the enemy by cutting off resources such as food or arms.

Bloquer quelque chose means 'to block something'.

Today in France blocus refers to less dramatic actions such as physically blocking entries to factories during strikes or protest actions. 

For example, blocus lycéen (high school blockade) is what's happening today, as teachers across France go on strike to protest Covid-19 health measures in schools.

To demonstrate their solidarity with the strike action, some high schoolers staged un blocus by piling trash cans outside the school to block the entry.

Faire un blocus means 'stage a blockade', and des lycéens organisent des blocus, 'high schoolers are organising blockades'.

 

Seeing a blocus in action for the first time can be slightly shocking for foreigners not used to that level of militant spirit.

When organised in French schools, pupils usually gather outside the establishment, chanting slogans, carrying placards, themselves physically blocking the entry.

A high school blockade in Paris, back in 2013. Photo: AFP

Use it like this

Les forces de l’ordre sont intervenues pour empêcher le blocus. Un élève est placé en garde à vue. – Police intervened to prevent the blockade. One pupil was detained. 

Ca part en blocus, je crois. – I think it's headed towards a blockade.

On en a fait combien de blocus cette année sans qu'il y ait eu de changement ? Plein ! Il faudra changer de stratégie. –  How many blockades have we staged this year without obtaining change? Lots! We need to change strategies.

Synonyms

Blocage – blockade

Opération escargot – a rolling roadblock on the type that hauliers and farmers often stage on French roads

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

This might sound like the cheese for children, but it actually has nothing to do with dairy products.

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

Why do I need to know une vache à lait ?

Because if someone describes a potential investment opportunity like this, you might want to consider it.

What does it mean?

Une vache à lait – roughly pronounced oon vash ah lay – translates precisely to ‘a cow with milk’ or ‘a dairy cow.’ However, this phrase has little to do with farming, cheese, or milk.

In practice, une vache à lait is almost synonymous with the English term “cash cow” – or something or someone that is a moneymaker or source of profit. 

The phrase in French comes from the middle of the 16th century and evokes an image of a cow who is being milked without protest, allowing for the farmer to profit off of it. It was gradually extended to people and business ventures as a way of talking about profitability. 

Sometimes, this expression can have a negative connotation, particularly if a person is being called a vache à lait. This would be akin to saying that they are being financially exploited without realising it. 

Use it like this

L’achat de Snapchat a été une vache à lait pour Mark Zuckerberg et Facebook. – The purchase of Snapchat was a moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Les parents ont été accusés d’utiliser leur enfant comme une vache à lait en l’inscrivant à des publicités. Ils ont trouvé cette accusation offensante. – The parents were accused of using their child as a cash cow by signing them up for commercials. They found this accusation offensive.

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