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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French word of the Day: Toubib

A topical piece of slang with an interesting history.

French word of the Day: Toubib
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know toubib?

Because you’re likely to be hearing it a lot in the coming months, but if you ask a local to explain where it comes from, they might not be able to tell you.

What does it mean?

Toubib is a slang term for ‘doctor’, and is commonly used by people all across France regardless of age. It has existed for so long that many French people are unaware that it arrived in the French language from Arabic, via the colonial-era military.

According to the French Ministry of Armed Forces, toubib was the name used by soldiers in North Africa to refer to military doctors from the mid-19th century: “It comes from the Arabic word tebîb or tbib, which originally referred to a sorcerer and then a doctor. Already used during the 1870-1871 [Franco-Prussian] war, the term spread before 1914 in the metropolitan regiments, and then became common in military hospitals from 1914.”

It is one of many words which French people use daily without realising they are borrowed from Arabic.

Although gender agreement is a tricky subject when it comes to French slang (and especially French professions), we found plenty of examples of people and newspapers using the term une toubib as well as un toubib, to distinguish between female and male doctors.

Use it like this

Je peux pas venir, je dois aller chez le toubib – I can’t come, I have to go to the doc’s

Au journal de 20 heures, il y avait une toubib qui parlait du vaccin – On the 8 o’clock news there was a medic who was talking about the vaccine

Il y a un manque de toubibs à la campagne, c’est très grave – There aren’t enough doctors in the countryside, it’s very serious

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.

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