For members


French word of the Day: Dom-Tom

No, it's not a Satnav system but you might find this useful to avoid getting lost.

French word of the Day: Dom-Tom
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know Dom-Tom?

Because you might end up in a bit of a geographical muddle if you don’t know what it means.

What does it mean?

Dom-Tom is an acronym, also written DOM-TOM and more recently substituted with DROM-COM.

It stands for Départements d’outre-mer et Territoires d’outre-mer. These days the correct formation is DROM-COM (Départements et regions d’outre mer et collectivities d’outre mer) but as often happens with official language changes the old formation lingers and is probably more widely used outside of government communications.

Either way, they all refer to the same thing – France’s overseas territories.

A legacy of empire, France has territoires d’outre-mer, which are largely self-governing, and départements d’outre-mer which are as much a part of France as Lyon, Lille or Lorient.

READ ALSO ‘Confetti of an empire’ – a look at France’s overseas territories

For this reason, data and information from the départements d’outre-mer are included in French statistics and reports. It’s important to realise the difference, however, unless you want to find yourself 9,000km away in the Indian Ocean (La Réunion) or 6,000km away in the Caribbean (Martinique).

Announcements about policies for France sometimes contain the caveat hors Dom-Tom – which means that different policies apply for the overseas areas.

For the sake of convenience, maps often show the DOMs on the left of the map, such as this one showing vaccination rates.

However, this does not mean that they are located off the coast of La Rochelle (some cruel commentators have suggested that the British government fell into this trap when it classified mainland France as ‘amber plus’ for travel because of the presence of the beta variant of Covid on the island of La Réunion, which is near Madagascar).

Use it like this

Les cas de Covid sont en baisse dans l’hexagone, mais en hausse dans les Dom-Tom – Covid cases are falling in the hexagon [mainland France] but rising in the overseas territories

Emmanuel Macron a annoncé un scénario d’urgence dans les Dom-Tom – Emmanuel Macron has announced a state of emergency in France’s overseas territories

Les régions les plus ensoleillées de France sont la Provence et la Côte d’Azur, et les Dom-Tom – The sunniest areas of France are Provence and the Côte d’Azur, and the overseas territories  

Member comments

  1. Spelling / orthographe
    Départements et regions d’outre mer et collectiVITÉS d’outre mer)

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Avoir l’estomac dans les talons

A sensation you might feel around midi after skipping your morning croissant.

French Expression of the Day: Avoir l'estomac dans les talons

Why do I need to know avoir l’estomac dans les talons?

Because you might want to inform your friend waiting in the long restaurant line with you about just how hungry you actually are.

What does it mean?

Avoir l’estomac dans les talons usually pronounced ah-vwar leh-sto-mack dahn lay tah-lonn – literally means to have the stomach in the heels, but it really just means that you are extremely hungry. A British-English equivalent might be ‘my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut’.

As with saying ‘I’m starving’ you wouldn’t use this to talk about people who are genuinely at risk of starvation, it’s just a phrase to complain about being hungry and wanting something to eat.

The expression probably originated around the end of the 19th century, and there are a couple of different ideas about how it came to be.

The first is that it’s intended to paint a picture of your stomach narrowing so much that it goes all the way down to your heels. The second idea proposes that since ‘les talons’ (heels) is a homonym with ‘l’étalon’ (stallion), the phrase might actually be referring to horse meat. You might be so hungry that the only thing that could possibly satiate your empty stomach is a hearty portion of horse meat.

Finally, there’s simply the idea that a person walking a long distance would have severe pain in his heels (or feet), and his hunger is so intense that it is as bad as the pain from walking a long distance.

Regardless of where it comes from, this expression is a sure-fire way to communicate your need for nourishment (or perhaps a nice helping of horse).

 Use it like this

Je ne peux pas attendre plus longtemps dans cette longue file, j’ai l’estomac dans les talons. – I cannot wait in this long line much longer, I’m starving.

Je n’ai pas mangé le déjeuner hier et à 17h, j’avais l’estomac dans les talons. Tout le monde dans le bureau pouvait entendre mon estomac faire du bruit ! – I skipped lunch yesterday and by 5pm I was starving! Everyone in the office could hear my stomach making noise.