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French phrase of the day: A cheval

The French phrase of the day is 'à cheval'.
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
In French, horse riders are said to follow the rules very closely.

Why do I need to know à cheval?

Because it can hold the key to staying on somebody’s good side.

What does it mean?

Un cheval is a horse, so the expression être à cheval sur quelque chose literally means “to be on horseback over something”.

But it does not in fact refer to the Wild West, nor is it the same as the high horse we like to refer to in English (monter sur ses grands chevaux means “to get on your high horse” or to feel morally superior over something).

The expression really has nothing to do with horses. It is used to refer to someone who is particularly fussy or meticulous about a certain subject, often related to rules or principles.

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You probably know someone who is à cheval sur la grammaire – a stickler for grammar. It’s not necessarily positive or pejorative, it’s simply something that’s important to the person, something they care about and pay close attention to.

Perhaps this governs their interactions with others, to the point where they tell people off for doing something wrong, or maybe it’s just a set of standards they aim for themselves. Either way, it’s best not to push your luck.

There are various theories about what horses have to do with being rigid. It has been suggested that it’s because horse riders teach their animals very strict movements and jumps, which require real discipline to train.

Use it like this

Mon colocataire est très à cheval sur le ménage – My flatmate is really fussy about the cleaning

Il faut pas que je sois en retard, mon patron est à cheval là-dessus – I mustn’t be late, my boss is very particular about that

Les Allemands sont à cheval sur les horaires – The Germans are strict about their schedules

Synonyms

Exigeant – demanding

Pointilleux – meticulous


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