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French expression of the day: Tiré par les cheveux

French expression of the day: Tiré par les cheveux
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Why in France, those who pull others by the hair are not to be trusted.

Why do I need to know tiré par les cheveux?

Because the direct translation of the expression has nothing to do with its actual meaning.

What does it mean?

Tirer is the French verb for 'to pull' and cheveux means 'hair'.

Tiré par les cheveux directly translates to 'pulled by the hair', as in someone literally pulling at someone else's hair with force. 

However if someone says c'est tiré pas ls cheveux (it's pulled by the hair), they are not talking tugging someone's ponytail. Tiré par les cheveux actually means something is 'far-fetched', 'improbable', 'unnatural', 'illogical' or 'forced'.

Origins

How, when and why exactly the metaphor of hair-pulling originated, is unclear. 

French online dictionary Expressio suggests that it may have something to do with the ancient method of torture that consisted of tying someone's hair to a horse's ponytail, which obviously was painful and extremely dangerous. Could the linguistic reference be to that those subject to torture end up saying whatever nonsense they think would make the pain stop? Nothing seems to prove it, Expressio concludes.

In the 17th Century tiré par les cheveux was used to say that something was 'forced'. When pulled by the hair, someone is not going to move as they naturally would. Similarly, a reasoning that is pulled by the hair is not one that draws a logical conclusion.

Use it like this
 
Cette théorie me semble complètement tirée par les cheveux. – This theory seems to me completely far-fetched.
 
Son avis sur le sujet n'était pas crédible, c'était tiré par les cheveux. – His opinion on the topic was not credible, it was illogical.
 
Synonyme
 
Capilotracté – means the same as tiré par les cheveux

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