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French word of the day: Dérapage

This is a common occurrence when tensions are running high.

French word of the day: Dérapage
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know dérapage?

Because newspaper editors love to use this word in headlines, and they expect you to understand it immediately.

What does it mean?

Dérapage literally means “skid”, as does the verb déraper (to skid). So, “Ma voiture a dérapé sur la route”, means, “My car skidded on the road”.

But it can also be used figuratively, to refer to anything which has strayed off course or gotten out of control, from spiralling fuel prices (dérapage des prix des carburants), to protests which turn violent.

People who consume a lot of French media will no doubt have come across a slightly different meaning of the word, however.

Dérapage is often journalistic shorthand for controversial comments, or indeed occasions a public figure is seen to have “gone off on one”, to use an even more informal English expression. It will inevitably appear in headlines any time a politician or celebrity says something that is misjudged and likely to provoke a backlash.

For example, when the MP Martine Wonner recently called on protestors to “invade” politicians’ headquarters to show their opposition to the Covid health pass, the French media spoke out about “le dérapage de Martine Wonner” (Martine Wonner’s outburst).

All of the above usages share a common theme: a loss of control and things deviating from our expectations.

Incidentally, Dérapages is also the name of a French TV series produced by Arte, starring Eric Cantona, about a fake hostage situation which gets out of control – hence the name.

Use it like this

L’homme politique à été exclu de son parti après son dérapage – The politician was kicked out of his party following his controversial comments.

Julie est allée faire les soldes et elle a complètement dérapé – Julie went to look at the sales and she went nuts.

Pendant le diner, quand mon oncle a dit qu’il allait voter pour Le Pen, tout a dérapé – Over dinner, when my uncle said he was going to vote for Le Pen, everybody lost their minds.

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For members


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.