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French word of the Day: Toubib

French word of the Day: Toubib
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
A topical piece of slang with an interesting history.

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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