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French word of the day: Saison blanche

Even beginners know that blanc/blanche means white, but the word has a lot more meaning than a literal description of colour.

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

Why do I need to know blanc?

Because when certain items have 'white' added to them, it gives them a whole new meaning.

What does it mean?

When the French government announced that ski resorts were looking at a saison blanche (white season) they were not talking about the weather reports looking particularly promising for snow.

Here, blanche meant 'write-off'. Ski resorts might not get to reopen at all this year, the government said.

Une saison blanche is a season that is void or a write-off.

And a season is not the only thing you can make white in French.

Nuit blanche (white night) means a night of no sleep (and is also the name of a very popular cultural all-night festival in Paris).

Une année blanche (a white year) is a term used about a specific tax mechanism that occurred in 2019 to prevent tax payers from being charged double on their income tax. This is a complicated one, but the only thing you need to understand for the purpose of this article is that, again, blanc referred to the fact that 2019 was 'tax free'.

Une année blanche can also mean 'a gap year', a year of pause to think or plan a project before embarking on a university degree, a new job or starting a company.

Use it like this

Elle a pris une année blanche pour voyager. – She took a gap year to travel.

Une saison blanche sera très dûre pour le secteur de sport d'hiver. – A write-off of the season will be very tough for the winter sport sector.

J'ai fait une nuit blanche pour finir cet article, je suis crevé. – I stayed up all night to finish this article, I'm dead.

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For members


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.