French expression of the day: Au pied du mur

French expression of the day: Au pied du mur
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Why do people keep saying that French President Emmanuel Macron is at the foot of a wall?

Why do I need to know au pied du mur?

Because it’s been everywhere the past few days, but it’s also a good expression to know at any time.

What does it mean?

Au pied du mur translates as ‘at the foot of the wall’, which is the French way of being pressed up ‘against the wall’ or ‘backed into a corner’.

Être au pied du mur means being in a difficult situation with few options left: “you are forced to act,” explains online dictionary l’Internaute, “you can no longer run away from a problem or a responsibility.”

The expression has been widely used by French media to describe the situation President Emmanuel Macron finds himself in, hard pressed to avoid imposing tough new Covid restrictions as the health situation keeps deteriorating, despite his desire to keep the country open. 


Originally the full expression was se trouver au pied du mur sans échelle, which means ‘finding oneself at the foot of the wall without a ladder’. This variant or the expression, which the l’Internaute traces back to 1593, “clearly shows the impossibility of getting out of a constraining situation”.

While today’s expression is shorter, the meaning remains the same.

Use it like this

On prend des mauvaises décisions lorsqu’on se trouve au pied du mur. – We make bad decisions when we are against the wall.

Ils avaient le sentiment d’être au pied du mur, c’est pour ça qu’ils ont fait la grève. – They felt like they were backed into a corner, that’s why they went on strike

Macron est au pied du mur. Il n’a pas vraiment d’autre choix que de nous reconfiner. – Macron has his back to the wall. He doesn’t really have any other choice than to re-impose lockdown.

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