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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: 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.