French word of the day: Dérapage

French word of the day: Dérapage
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This is a common occurrence when tensions are running high.

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.

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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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