French word of the day: Pile-poil

French word of the day: Pile-poil
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
When something happens at exactly the right moment, it's kind of like chest hair in France.

Why do I need to know pile-poil?

Because it’s the most precise you can get in France.

What does it mean?

Pile-poil is a common expression that consists two French words: pile (exactly) and poil (the hair you have on your body, not on your head, which is cheveux). The direct translation is therefore ‘exactly-body hair’, which sounds weird. 

But it’s pretty much like the English expression ‘by a hair’s breadth’, as it means ‘exactly’ or ‘precisely’ in most settings.

And just like ‘by a hair’s breadth’, pile-poil indicates an element of unlikely perfection. 

It can be about time, say if something happening exactly at the right moment. If you were invited to a dinner party at 8pm and arrive at 8pm, tu es arrivée pile-poil à l’heure – you arrived right on time.

But it can also be that something is a perfect physical fit: la télé est rentrée pile-poil dans la porte – the telly fit through the door by a hair’s breadth.

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Often it will be combined with the verb tomber (to fall): ça tombe pile-poil au bon moment means something occurred at the perfect moment.

It’s a somewhat colloquial expression, and sometimes it will be shortened to just pile.

(Pile can also mean ‘battery’, but that’s in a different context.)

Use it like this

Elle est arrivée pile-poil au moment où on allait partir. – She arrived exactly when we were going to leave.

On a déménagé tout seuls donc ça a pris tout le week-end. Heureusement le frigo passait pile-poil dans les escaliers ! – We moved house on our own so it took all weekend. Luckily the fridge fitted up the staircase by a hair’s breadth!

S’ils annoncent un nouveau confinement pile-poil au moment qu’il commence à faire beau.. – If they announce another lockdown the moment the weather gets better..


Précisément – precisely 

Exactement – exactly

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