French word of the day: Coulisses

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French word of the day: Coulisses

Why France is so often asking what is going on backstage.


Why do I need to know coulisses?

Because it is a common expression, but with a slightly different meaning than its English translation.

What does it mean?

Coulisses means 'backstage', but it has a double meaning that its English equivalent lacks.

While coulisses can literally refer to the part of the stage at the theatre that is hidden to the public, it can also mean 'behind the scenes', as in what happens 'behind closed doors'. 

There's an element of secrecy to the activities that take place dans les coulisses, the idea being that they should remain unseen by the public.

French online dictionary l'Internaute defines coulisses as the "secret side or, hidden (side) of an activity". 

Les coulisses du pouvoir, which means 'behind the scenes of power', refers to what goes on in a government when there are no journalists present.


The French-German TV channel Arté airs a series called les coulisses de l'histoire, which means 'behind the scenes of history' and tells the story of historic events by focusing especially on the complexities that we generally don't see or hear about.

Coulisse is feminine so it's une coulisse, however you will use the plural version when you're talking about les coulisses de quelque chose (the secret side of something).

Use it like this

J'aimerais bien savoir ce qui se passe dans les coulisses du gouvernement. - I'd like to know what is going on behind the scenes of government.

Il faut comprendre que, derrière un journal télévisé, il y a un énorme travail en coulisses. - You have to understand that, behind a television broadcast, there is a huge amount of work behind the scenes.

On ne s'aura jamais ce qu'a été dit dans les coulisses de cette decision. - We will never know what was said behind closed doors during this decision.



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