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French phrase of the day: Sans crier gare

French phrase of the day: Sans crier gare
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This French expression has nothing to do with trains.

Why do I need to know sans crier gare?

Because it’s an expression that dates all the way back to the 12th century but is still commonly used today, so it must be at least slightly useful.

What does it mean?

To do something sans crier gare is to do it out of the blue, without warning.

It’s a common expression which is usually added on to the end of a sentence, but how it came to mean what it does is a bit more complicated.

It’s tempting for French learners to translate the phrase literally as “without shouting train station”, but unfortunately it has nothing to do with railroads.

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The word gare can also mean “mind” (as in “mind the gap”), or “be careful”, for example in the phrase gare à toi ! (watch out!).

Neither of these meanings are enough to fully explain the expression, however. According to the TV and radio presenter Stéphane Bern, known for presenting popular history shows, the phrase dates back to the 12th century.

“At that time, it was mainly used when a person arrived unannounced, or for an impromptu event,” Bern told Europe 1.

Back then, gare meant prendre garde (to be on guard). “We mustn’t interpret it in the modern sense of ‘be careful’, but rather garez-vous, ‘take shelter’. From that moment, somebody who appeared sans crier gare did so without warning beforehand that it would be a good idea to take shelter.”

The meaning has barely changed down the years, and the phrase still refers to someone who does something without prior warning.

Use it like this

Elle est partie sans crier gare – She left without telling anyone

Le chanteur a sorti un album sans crier gare – The singer has released an album out of the blue

Mon père biologique est arrivé sans crier gare dans ma vie – My biological father showed up in my life without warning


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