For members


Word of the day: Paname

This word refers to a place, but probably not the one you’re thinking of.

Word of the day: Paname

Why do I need to know Paname?

Because if you don’t know what it means it could lead to some confusing conversations.

What does it mean?

Ville lumière, Cité de l’amour, capitale de la mode… the French expressions which refer to Paris are endless, just like the rest of the world’s fascination with the city. But while the above terms speak for themselves, the French capital has another nickname which requires more of an explanation.

The first time you heard somebody say they were going to ‘Paname’, you may have been imagining long haul flights and scorching temperatures. But it’s not the French word for the small, Central American nation – in French, Panama is spelled the same as in English – it is in fact a very common French nickname for Paris.

According to Le Figaro, the name owes its existence to a scandal which rocked the Third Republic in 1892. Over 100 members of parliament were accused of accepting bribes from a French company involved in a failed attempt to build a Panama Canal.

This supposedly lead people outside of the capital to begin referring to these disgraced politicians as “panamistes”, before extending the insult to Parisians in general. The same people then began calling Paris itself “Paname”.

Over the years, the term has softened into a term of endearment. According to Claude Duneton in Le Figaro, this began with soldiers in the First World War who dreamed of “seeing Paname again”. The nickname then became common through the cabarets and music halls of the 1920s and 1930s.

People still use it to this day. It is also present in pop culture. Paname is the name of a song by Léo Ferré, and has more recently featured in a song by the rapper Médine.

Use it like this

Je rêve d’habiter à Paname – I dream of living in Paris.

Elle a quitté Paname quand elle avait dix-huit ans – She left Paris when she was eighteen.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

He's the legendary Englishman who is surprisingly relevant to French political discourse.

French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

Why do I need to know Robin des bois?

Because you might be wondering why the French reference this English outlaw during protest movements 

What does it mean?

Robin des bois roughly pronounced roe-bahn day bwah – is the French version of “Robin Hood” – the legendary outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. 

Robin Hood is part of English folklore, with the first references to him occurring sometime during the 13th or 14th century. He did not become Robin des bois for some time – as the legend did not spread to the majority of French people until at least the 18th or 19th century. 

Robin des bois most likely made his big entrance on the French stage in the 19th century when the novel Ivanhoe (1819), which tells tales of medieval England, was translated into French. 

The fabled outlaw was welcomed by the French, particularly romantic writers and thinkers of the time who saw him as a symbol of the fight against the aristocracy. 

But the French had their own versions of Robin Hood before the English legend made its way to l’Hexagone – like the “Louis Mandrin” who supposedly rebelled against corrupt tax collectors during the Ancien Regime. 

Over the years, the French – particularly those on the political left – have evoked “Robin des bois” during strikes and protests, and it’s relatively common to see protest movements or direct action groups name themselves after Robin Hood.

The English outlaw also had his own French television series between 1963 and 1966 – though this time he was called “Thierry La Fronde” and he lived in France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Use it like this

Nous devons nous attaquer aux actions de Robin des Bois afin d’aider la classe ouvrière à payer leurs factures d’énergie, a déclaré le syndicat dans un communiqué de presse. – We must take action like Robin Hood to help the working class pay for their energy bills, the union said in a flyer. 

Le restaurateur était un véritable Robin des Bois – il avait tendance à surfacturer les tables des riches et à sous-facturer celles de la classe populaire. – The restaurant owner was a real Robin Hood – he had a tendency of overcharging tables of rich people and under-charging those of poor folks.