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French word of the day: Bilan

You'll often see this translated as a balance sheet, but in fact it has several meanings, all useful when you need to get to the point.

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

Why do I need to know bilan?

Because it's a common French term with no precise English equivalent.

What does it mean?

Bilan's exact meaning varies slightly depending on the context.

It can refer to the 'balance sheet' of a company, but also 'balance sheet' more generally, for example the 'results' or 'impact' of something, an 'evaluation' or 'a roundup'.

It's often used as faire le bilan, which means 'review' or 'take stock' – used in the same way as faire le point.

If you tap “bilan Covid” into Google you get an overview of virus rates across the wold, the number of cases, deaths and recovered. It's a good example, because it's a 'roundup' of the situation, based on the latest available health data.

Bilan frequently features in news article headlines, lately often related to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as le bilan épidemique (the impact of the pandemic).

But the government will also often talk about le bilan économique (an economic overview), referring to the latest economic important trends such as whether or not the economy grew over a set period.

Bilan can be combined with most things: bilan couvre feu (curfew impact) refers to the effects of the night time curfew on Covid rates, bilan du “click and collect” is an assessment of the new French pick-up system for meals, and other stuff, while bilan carbone is a roundup of carbon emissions.

Use it like this

C'est quoi le bilan ? – What's the conclusion/lessons/assessment?

On ignore combien de personnes sont mortes dans le tremblement de terre, mais le bilan prévisionnel est déjà lourd. – We don't know how many people died in the earthquake, but the numbers we have so far are already high.

Il faut qu'on fasse le bilan avant d'annoncer de nouvelles mesures. – We need to do a roundup before announcing new measures.



Member comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve see “bilan de compétences” as well, which I equate to a “skills inventory.”

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For members


French Word of the Day: Bordéliser

This French expression is not the kindest, but it will certainly get your point across.

French Word of the Day: Bordéliser

Why do I need to know bordéliser?

Because when things feel chaotic, you might want to use this word.

What does it mean?

Bordéliser roughly pronounced bore-del-ee-zay – comes from the swear word “bordel” which means brothel.

In popular usage, bordel is used to describe a mess or a chaotic environment, and bordéliser turns the bordel into a verb – meaning to make or create disorder, disaster or chaos. 

During periods of unrest in France, you may hear people blame one group for causing the problem by using this expression. Keep in mind that bordéliser is not polite language – the English equivalent might be to “fuck (or screw) something up”.

One popular theory says that the root word bordel comes from medieval French – at the time, sex workers were explicitly not allowed to work near the ports, so they were relegated to wooden huts or small houses – or bordes, in French –  away from the city.

You may also hear another French expression that uses the same root word: “c’est le bordel”. 

This literally translates to “it’s a brothel” but it is used to describe a situation that’s untidy, messy or chaotic, both literally and figuratively as in  ‘what a bloody mess!’ or ‘it’s mayhem!’ or ‘what a disaster!’

Use it like this

Le militant accuse le gouvernement de bordéliser le pays avec sa réforme impopulaire. – The activist accuses the government of “fucking up” the country with its unpopular reform.

Tu as bordélisé l’appartement et notre dynamique de colocation en achetant le singe comme animal de compagnie. Qu’est-ce qui t’a pris ? – You have screwed up the apartment and our roommate dynamic by buying the monkey as a pet. What were you thinking?