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French expression of the day: Tiré par les cheveux

Why in France, those who pull others by the hair are not to be trusted.

French expression of the day: Tiré par les cheveux
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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'.


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.
Capilotracté – means the same as tiré par les cheveux

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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.