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French phrase of the day: Être aux manettes

French phrase of the day: Être aux manettes
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Show your masterful side or understand the latest twist in French politics with this expression.

Why do I need to know être aux manettes?

Because it’s a great expression for when you want to take control – linguistically (by showing how you’re now mastering figurative French expressions) or in real life (by being the boss)

Just be careful not to confuse manettes with menottes (see below).

What does it mean?

Être is the French verb for ‘to be’ and aux is a fusion of à and les, which means ‘at the’. Manettes means ‘lever’ or ‘handles’.

Être aux manettes therefore directly translates as ‘to be at the handles’, which is a language metaphor for ‘to be in charge’.

A good English equivalent is ‘to take the reins’ or ‘take the helm (of a boat)’.

It’s a common expression, which is especially timely at the moment as French weekly Le Point’s latest front page features ex-Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, with the quote: “J’aime être aux manettes” – ‘I like to be in charge’. 

Philippe’s choice of words had strong impact in France, as the former PM – adored by the country since he left his post last July – is a potential challenger to his former boss, President Emmanuel Macron.

So now the big question is: est-ce qu’il aime assez être aux manettes pour se présenter à l’élection présidentielle de 2022 ? – Does he like to be at the helm enough to stand for the 2022 presidential election? 

Don’t confuse it with..

Menottes (handcuffs). If you say menottes instead of manettes, you’re talking about something quite different. 

Use it like this

Ce n’était pas bien mieux lorsqu’il était aux manettes. – It wasn’t a lot better when he was in charge.

Il nous faut quelqu’un de fort aux manettes de cette entreprise. En ce moment c’est le bordel total ! – We need someone strong to take the reins of this business. At the moment it’s a total mess! 

En tant que dirigeant, si on veut vraiment être aux manettes, je trouve qu’il est crucial d’être à l’écoute. – As a leader, if you really want to be in charge, I find it crucial to listen.

Synonyms

Être aux commandes – to be in charge

S’occuper de – take care of


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