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.