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French word of the day: Guéguerre

A useful term to know ahead of election season in France.

French word of the day: Guéguerre
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know guéguerre?

Because it sounds similar to a word you probably already know, but its meaning is slightly different.

What does it mean?

If guerre is a serious word which refers to literal wars, then by repeating the first syllable (sort of – it sounds more like gay-gair), the word loses some of its gravitas, as if a child were trying to say the word guerre.

And that childish aspect is perfectly reflected in the meaning, too. A guéguerre is a quarrel, or a minor conflict, something its participants might think of as a war, but which is actually a lot more silly and juvenile. No more than a squabble.

It’s an informal term, but you’ll often see it used in the press – perhaps when the reporters themselves are questioning whether a particular spat is really worth covering. In recent months, it has been deployed for:

The Vegas Golden Knights ice hockey team taunting Montreal Canadiens fans by projecting a photoshopped image of Celine Dion in the Las Vegas team’s jersey onto the jumbotron.

The intra-Alsatian rivalry between the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin départements, over everything from wine to linguistic differences.

The long-standing antagonism between far-left politician Philippe Poutou and far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, with Poutou recently covering up Zemmour’s posters around the city of Bordeaux.

Use it like this

Le Mont-Saint-Michel est au centre d’une guéguerre entre la Normandie et la Bretagne – Mont-Saint-Michel is at the centre of a quarrel between Normandy and Brittany.

La guéguerre entre les deux hommes politiques dure depuis des années – The squabble between the two politicians has been going on for years.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.