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French word of the day: Ramer

French word of the day: Ramer
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Sometimes a simple hand gesture is enough to convey this word.

Why do I need to know ramer?

Because it’s perfect for making somebody feel even more awkward when you’re not happy with their explanation.

What does it mean?

Ramer means “to row”, since une rame refers to an oar. In colloquial speech, it means to have a lot of difficulty when trying to do something.

Both the literal and figurative meanings are very similar to the word galérer, which also means “to struggle”, and originated with the galériens, prisoners who were forced to row galley ships as a punishment.

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Ramer does have one extra meaning that galérer does not, however, because you can use it more specifically to refer to somebody who is struggling to explain themselves.

Either because they have told a lie and are trying to get away with it, or on the contrary, because they have been overly honest and revealed something that didn’t go down too well and are now trying to walk back their comments. It also applies when someone is confronted with a question or a piece of information for which they weren’t prepared.

In any case, it suggests the person is squirming, in a desperate attempt to sauver les meubles.

Viewers of the satirical daily news show Quotidien are unlikely to forget the term, because any time a politician is trying to explain themselves under pressure, producers cut to the song “Rame” by Alain Souchon, which goes, Rame, rame, rameurs, ramez (“Row, row, rowers, row”).

If you want to point out that somebody is having to ramer, you can rub it in by saying nothing and simply doing a rowing gesture with your arms, and people will understand.

Use it like this

Je rame pour trouver du boulot – I’m struggling to find work

Le ministre a dû ramer pour expliquer sa maladresse – The minister had to go to great lengths to explain his mistake


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