For members


French word of the day: Flambé

This French term is about more than just dessert (unfortunately).

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

Why do I need to know flambé?

Because if you don't know its second meaning, you might think people are bringing up sweet treats in odd settings. 

What does it mean?

Cêpes suzette, crème brulée or even omelette Norvégienne –  all are delicious desserts and all are flambé (flamed or burned).

But flambé can mean more than just faire brûler (burn) something.

The verb flamber has two meanings, one of which is 'to burn'. The other is 'to increase rapidly', so similar to the English terms 'flare up', 'shoot up' or 'rocket'.

For example: les prix flambent – prices are rocketing.

Similarly, une flambée refers to 'a hike', 'a flare-up' or 'an outbreak'.

So when the French health minister is talking about la flambée épidémique, it is (sadly) a much more serious message than that you should enjoy some sweet treats due to the Covid virus. Actually, he is talking about 'the epidemic flare-up', which in this setting generally means the Covid-19 virus is spreading at an increasingly rapid pace.

Use it like this

Le coronavirus flambe en France depuis quelques jours. – The coronavirus has been spreading extremely quickly in France over the past few days.

A cause de l'épidémie Covid on voit une flambée du nombre de chomeurs. – Because of the Covid epidemic we're seeing the number of unemployed rocket.

Après une flambée de contaminations ils ont dû fermer l'école. – After an flare-up of contaminations they had to close the school.

Pendant le confinement on a pu observer une flambée des apéros-skype. – During lockdown we saw the number of Skype drinks explode.


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For members


French Expression of the Day: À poil

Some people prefer to sleep like this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: À poil

Why do I need to know à poil ?

Because if someone invites you to come to a beach like this and you don’t know the meaning of this expression, then you might be in for a bit of a surprise.

What does it mean?

À poil – roughly pronounced ah pwahl – is an expression that makes use of the French word for an animal’s fur or its coat. A synonym might be fourrure. However, the expression as it has come to be used does not have to do with animals’ coats – it actually means to be naked. 

How a phrase referring to animal’s fur came to signify nakedness goes all the way back to the 17th century and the world of horseback-riding. At the time, one could either ride a horse with a saddle or cover (blanket), or you could ride bareback. The phrase for doing so was monter l’animal à cru (“à cru” meaning ‘bare’ or ‘raw’) which became monter un cheval à poil – to ride the horse with only its fur.

In this case, the horse was seen as naked (lacking its saddle or blanket), and over time the idea of the naked horse transferred over to naked people. 

The phrase is slightly crude – you wouldn’t use it to describe nude artworks – but not offensive, it’s roughly similar to describing someone as “butt naked” or “bollock naked” in English. The more polite way to say this might be “tout nu” (totally naked).

If you are looking for another way to say ‘birthday suit’ in French you could use “en costume d’Adam” (in Adam’s suit – a Biblical reference to the naked inhabitants of the Garden of Eden). 

Use it like this

Je me suis mise pas mal à poil dernièrement, mais ce n’est pas un délire exhibo et, dans la vie, c’est plus compliqué – I’ve been getting naked quite a bit lately, but it’s not an exhibitionist thing, life is more complicated than that. – From an interview about nude scenes with the French actress Virgine Efira.

Je préfère dormir à poil en été. Il fait vraiment trop chaud ! – I prefer sleeping totally naked in the summer. It is really too hot!