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French phrase of the day: Etat d’âme

The French language is second to none when it comes to matters of the soul.

French phrase of the day: Etat d’âme
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know Etat d’âme?

Because it’s a poetic expression which can be very evocative, but it is also useful in everyday life.

What does it mean?

Etat d’âme literally translates as “state of soul”, and is used to refer to the emotions we feel deep inside, because “state of mind” just doesn’t cut it in the land of Baudelaire.

You can use it in a question, by asking someone, “Tu es dans quel état d’âme?”, meaning, “How are you feeling, deep down?”

However, the phrase is most commonly used in the negative. If it’s used to refer to emotions, then by extension, the common expression “sans état d’âme” means doing something without feeling any emotions. Possible translations include “unscrupulously”, “without qualms”, or “without hesitating”.

It can also be written in the plural (sans états d’âme). No, we’re not sure what difference it makes …

As the above translations suggest, sans état d’âme can carry two slightly different meanings: either acting decisively without beating around the bush, or acting in an emotionless, even immoral way.

During the second round of voting in French elections, it is common for eliminated politicians to call on their supporters to vote for another candidate sans état d’âme (without hesitating).

Use it like this

Il l’a viré sans états d’âme – He fired him without hesitation

Elle a pris une décision sans état d’âme – She came to a decision without any soul searching.

Tu es dans quel état d’âme pour le mariage ? – How are you feeling about the wedding ?


Etat d’esprit – state of mind

Etre sans scrupule – to be unscrupulous

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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.