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French word of the day: Pile-poil

When something happens at exactly the right moment, it's kind of like chest hair in France.

French word of the day: Pile-poil
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

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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French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

You might do this while gardening or while reading the tabloids.

French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

Why do I need to know découvrir le pot aux roses?

Because if you enjoy celebrity gossip, then you probably will find good use for this phrase

What does it mean?

Découvrir le pot aux roses – pronounced day-coov-rear le pot-oh rose – literally translates to ‘to discover the pot of roses.’ 

You might use this expression when finding out about some exciting gossip or maybe when discovering what your partner secretly planned for your anniversary, as this phrase in actuality is what you would say when you learn something secret or hidden. 

In English, when discussing secrets, you might say someone has ‘spilled the beans’ or ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ but the French phrase is more about the person who has found out about the hidden item or truth, not the person who told it, as it ‘spill the beans’.

The origins of this French expression are not what you might expect, historically, the phrase has little to do with the flowers.

During the Middle Ages, the verb ‘découvrir’ had the meaning of ‘to lift a lid’ and at the time the phrase ‘pot aux roses’ referred to a small box that wealthy women used to store their perfumes, as well as their makeup. They often used these boxes to keep secrets, letters, or notes that they did not want others to stumble upon.

Use it like this

Pendant l’afterwork, Sarah a raconté à tout le monde les secrets les plus fous sur la vie privée du patron. Je ne comprends pas comment elle a réussi à découvrir le pot aux roses. – During the work happy hour, Sarah told us all about the wildest secrets of our boss’ personal life. I don’t understand how she managed to unearth that gossip.

Il a découvert le pot aux roses lorsqu’il s’est connecté à l’ordinateur de son colocataire pour regarder simplement son mail. – He discovered the secret when he logged onto his roommate’s laptop to just check his email.