French word of the Day: Rétropédalage

No, it's nothing to do with hipsters on retro bicycles.

French word of the Day: Rétropédalage

Why do I need to know rétropédalage?

Because it’s useful when complaining about the government, a cherished pastime in France.

What does it mean?

It literally means ‘backpedalling’, and just like in English, it is mostly used in a figurative sense, when somebody goes back on something they said or did.

The term was in the news recently, after several local prefectures announced the end of compulsory mask wearing outdoors in their towns. They were later accused of rétropédalage after suspending the measures at the request of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

The word is often used to convey a sense of embarrassment, when a person or organisation has to walk back a hasty or controversial statement, or abandon an unpopular policy.

It can be used as a noun (le rétropédalage), or a verb (rétropédaler).

If the initial comments were particularly controversial, the person might resort to un rétropédalage in an attempt to sauver les meubles.

Use it like this

Tout le monde est en colère malgré sa tentative de rétropédalage – Everybody’s angry despite his attempted backpedalling.

Après un tollé autour de ses propos, il a été contraint de rétropédaler – After an uproar, he was forced to walk back his comments.

Ils avaient annoncé la fin du port du masque en extérieur, mais ils ont rétropédalé depuis – They had announced the end of compulsory outdoor mask wearing, but they’ve since backpeddled.

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French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.