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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Avoir des idées arrêtées

This type of person knows what they like, and more importantly, what they don't like.

French Expression of the Day: Avoir des idées arrêtées

Why do I need to know avoir des idées arrêtées ?

Because your friend who will only watch certain movie genres might be described this way.

What does it mean?

Avoir des idées arrêtées roughly pronounced ah vwar dayz ee-day arr-eh-tay –  translates precisely to “to have stopped ideas.” 

In its normal usage, the phrase translates more accurately as “to have strong opinions” or “to have fixed ideas” – being uncompromising in your one’s viewpoints. 

Another way to describe this type of person in French might be “catégorique” (or ‘categorical’ in English). 

You might also hear this expression as “des idées bien arrêtées” – meaning someone who has ‘very’ strong opinions. Depending on context, this phrase might have a bit of a negative connotation, particularly if it is being used to portray someone as being stubborn.

Use it like this

Elle a des idées arrêtées sur les films, comme elle refuse de regarder tout autre film que ceux de Marvel. Elle ne veut même pas regarder les films DC. – She has very strong opinions about films, for instance she only watches Marvel movies. She won’t even watch DC movies.

Tout le monde dit qu’il a des opinions arrêtées, mais je l’ai trouvé flexible sur certaines choses… comme le choix d’un restaurant. – Everyone says he is uncompromising, but I find him to be flexible on some things, like choosing a restaurant.