French phrase of the day: Sauver les meubles

French phrase of the day: Sauver les meubles
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Rescue the furniture! Don't worry, hearing this in France (generally) doesn't mean your house is on fire.

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’. 

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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.

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  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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