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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the day: Sauver les meubles

Rescue the furniture! Don't worry, hearing this in France (generally) doesn't mean your house is on fire.

French phrase of the day: Sauver les meubles
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why to I need to know sauver les meubles?

Because it is a common, figurative expression that is good for times that require a bit of damage control.

What does it mean?

Sauver les maubles, which translates as ‘rescue the furniture’ or ‘save the furniture, sounds like something to shout in the event of a house fire (although of course the official advice is to get out as quickly as possible without wasting time on trying to salvage material goods that can be replaced).

However the expression is a metaphor for exactly that. It means ‘limiting the losses in the event of a disaster’, like trying to get your furniture out of a burning house, or during a flood.

It means “preserving the essential” or “limiting the losses,” according to French online dictionary l’Internaute.

The closest English equivalents are probably ‘to save what can be saved’, ‘do damage control’ or ‘salvage what you can’. 

Origins

Back in the 12th Century, meuble had a wider meaning than just ‘furniture’, defined by l’Internaute as “goods that can be replaced”. So saving the meubles meant trying to salvage anything possible in the event of a crisis.

Use it like this

Today, it is mostly used to say ‘limiting the losses’ of something – anything – that is not going the way hoped. 

Ils n’ont plus aucune chance de devenir champions, ils doivent juste sauver les meubles. – It’s clear that they have lost their chance of becoming champions, now they just have to limit their losses.

Après la chute de la bourse on a tenté de sauver les meubles, mais il y avait quand même beaucoup de dégats économiques. – After the fall of the stock market we did damage control, but there was still a lot of economic damage. 

Le secteur du tourisme a sauvé les meubles cet éte, mais les restrictions Covid ont quand même fait très mal. – The tourism sector did what they could to limit the losses this summer, but the Covid restrictions still hurt badly.

Member comments

  1. As we did not have a TV at the time I went to a local bar in Nice to see the last of the Macron-Le Pen debates back in 2017. There was quite a crowd there. Given the conservative nature of much of the area I was not surprised to hear murmurs of assent and ‘Mais, bien sur’ along with light appause accompanying much of her early efforts. But as the full horror of her personality emerged and her interventions became ever wilder a silence fell on the room. At the end two elderly gents in front of me looked at each other. One said ‘And so?’ The other ‘I don’t know now. She seems so wild and dangerous. And you?’. ‘I will vote Macron. Il faut sauver les meubles’.

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For members

FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Word of the Day: Soixante-huitard

About one in five people of a certain French generation can be described using this term.

French Word of the Day: Soixante-huitard

Why do I need to know soixante-huitard?

Because it references a very important part of French history and culture.

What does it mean?

Soixante-huitard – pronounced swah-sahnt wheat arr – literally means sixty-eighter. While its translation might sound a bit like a sports team (ex. Forty-niners),  this term in French has an important political and social context behind it. 

A soixante-huitard is someone who participated in the famous May 1968 protests in France. With the backdrop of the Prague Spring and the American Civil Rights Movement and anti-war protests, French students and striking workers demanded a more egalitarian world in May 1968. 

This period of civil unrest lasted seven weeks and even forced then-President Charles de Gaulle to temporarily flee to West Germany. The events of this time have had a profound effect on French culture and politics. 

Around 11 million people – 22 percent of the population at the time – was involved in some way or another, and these days, those people are referred to as un soixante-huitard or une soixante-huitarde (for a woman). 

Though the term is typically reserved to refer to those actually involved in the protest movement, it can occasionally be used as a way to describe someone who has held onto the far-left ideas or sentiments from the 1968 movement.

Use it like this

Il a gardé ses convictions d’extrême-gauche longtemps après 1968. C’est un vrai soixante-huitard. – He held onto his far-left beliefs long after 1968. He is a true sixty-eighter. 

Tu pourrais être surpris que ta tante ait une soixante-huitarde. Ses opinions ont certainement changé avec le temps. Tu ne l’aurais jamais deviné ! – You might be surprised that your aunt participated in May 68. Her opinions have really changed with time, you would never have guessed it.

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