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French phrase of the Day: Montagne russe

French phrase of the Day: Montagne russe
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
We know that travel has been a bit limited of late, but fortunately you don't have to go to Russia to find one of these.

Why do I need to know montagne russe?

Because it’s one of those French phrases that makes no sense when translated literally.

What does it mean?

Une montage is a mountain and russe means Russian, but une montage russe is a rollercoaster.

And just like its English counterpart, the phrase can mean an actual, physical rollercoaster at a theme park or a fluctuation up and down of something, whether it is emotions or statistics.

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If things feel a bit turbulent you can say Je passe par une montage russe d’émotions – I’m going through an emotional rollercoaster.

Exactly why the mountains are Russian is slightly unclear, although it’s suggested that this was due to an early form of theme park popular in Russia in the 16th century – although these were ice-covered slopes built in the winter that people slid along on sleds or wicker seats – more similar to a modern bobsleigh track. By the 19th century versions had appeared in Paris with rail carts instead of sleds, and were widely known as montages russes.

In Russian the word for rollercoaster roughly translates as ‘American slides’.

In French you sometimes also hear le grand huit (the big eight, after the traditional shape) or just le rollercoaster.

Use it like this

Nous sommes allés à Disneyland Paris mais les montagnes russes étaient fermées pour réparation – We went to Disneyland Paris but the rollercoasters were closed for repairs.

On est toujours sur les montagnes russes,on monte et on descend, à essayer quelque chose de nouveau – You’re always on this emotional rollercoaster, up and down, trying something new.

Le marché boursier a vraiment joué les montagnes russes au cours de ces dernières années – The stock market has really been on a rollercoaster ride over the last few years


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