For members


French word of the Day: Panne

One for when things are going a little bit wrong.

French word of the Day: Panne

Why do I need to know panne?

This is a handy word to know in case of problems, but you have also seen it in the news recently after a telephone maintenance glitch lead to France’s emergency services numbers becoming uncontactable.

 What does it mean?

Une panne means a breakdown, while en panne means broken down or out of order – you may have seen it scribbled onto a piece of paper and stuck onto an out of order lift or left on the windscreen of a broken down car. 

The word was first recorded in France in the 1700s, and initially meant ‘soft, velvet-like cloth’, likely meaning it was a broken down material as opposed to a harder material. 

These days, the word can be used in a variety of forms to express a breakdown, a temporary lack of something, an interruption or a halt or in a more metaphorical sense to indicate that you have let someone down. 

Use it like this 

En panne – Out of order/broken 

Tomber en panne – Broken down (used if your car has broken down) 

Panne sèche – Out of gas

Laisser quelqu’un en panne – To let someone down

Nous sommes tombés en panne d’essence ! – We’ve run out of petrol!


Hors service – out of service or out of order, frequently shortened to HS (pronounced ashesse)

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

You might do this while gardening or while reading the tabloids.

French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

Why do I need to know découvrir le pot aux roses?

Because if you enjoy celebrity gossip, then you probably will find good use for this phrase

What does it mean?

Découvrir le pot aux roses – pronounced day-coov-rear le pot-oh rose – literally translates to ‘to discover the pot of roses.’ 

You might use this expression when finding out about some exciting gossip or maybe when discovering what your partner secretly planned for your anniversary, as this phrase in actuality is what you would say when you learn something secret or hidden. 

In English, when discussing secrets, you might say someone has ‘spilled the beans’ or ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ but the French phrase is more about the person who has found out about the hidden item or truth, not the person who told it, as it ‘spill the beans’.

The origins of this French expression are not what you might expect, historically, the phrase has little to do with the flowers.

During the Middle Ages, the verb ‘découvrir’ had the meaning of ‘to lift a lid’ and at the time the phrase ‘pot aux roses’ referred to a small box that wealthy women used to store their perfumes, as well as their makeup. They often used these boxes to keep secrets, letters, or notes that they did not want others to stumble upon.

Use it like this

Pendant l’afterwork, Sarah a raconté à tout le monde les secrets les plus fous sur la vie privée du patron. Je ne comprends pas comment elle a réussi à découvrir le pot aux roses. – During the work happy hour, Sarah told us all about the wildest secrets of our boss’ personal life. I don’t understand how she managed to unearth that gossip.

Il a découvert le pot aux roses lorsqu’il s’est connecté à l’ordinateur de son colocataire pour regarder simplement son mail. – He discovered the secret when he logged onto his roommate’s laptop to just check his email.