For members


French Expression of the Day: Changer de cap

Politicians do it all the time, but it's not a fashion statement.

French expression of the day: Changer de cap
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know changer de cap?

Because we have elections coming up in France. 

What does it mean?

It means to change direction – and is often used in a political context. 

It is thought to derive from the old nautical terms, tenir le cap and maintenir le cap, which mean ‘to stay on the same tack’ (carry on in the same direction). 

The cap in question here is not headgear (a baseball cap in French is usually known as a casquette). Un cap vrai is a ‘true heading’ – a navigational term used to describe the direction of travel relative to the north pole. 

Use it like this

Emmanuel Macron a assuré qu’il n’y aura pas un changement de cap de sa politique – Emmanuel Macron promised that there would not be a change of direction in his politics 

Xavier Bertrand n’a pas l’intention de changer de cap politique – Xavier Bertrand does not intend to change direction

Presque tous les présidents ont connu des désillusions et ont dû changer de cap politique – Nearly all presidents have known disillusion and have had to change their political direction

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For members


French Expression of the Day: À poil

Some people prefer to sleep like this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: À poil

Why do I need to know à poil ?

Because if someone invites you to come to a beach like this and you don’t know the meaning of this expression, then you might be in for a bit of a surprise.

What does it mean?

À poil – roughly pronounced ah pwahl – is an expression that makes use of the French word for an animal’s fur or its coat. A synonym might be fourrure. However, the expression as it has come to be used does not have to do with animals’ coats – it actually means to be naked. 

How a phrase referring to animal’s fur came to signify nakedness goes all the way back to the 17th century and the world of horseback-riding. At the time, one could either ride a horse with a saddle or cover (blanket), or you could ride bareback. The phrase for doing so was monter l’animal à cru (“à cru” meaning ‘bare’ or ‘raw’) which became monter un cheval à poil – to ride the horse with only its fur.

In this case, the horse was seen as naked (lacking its saddle or blanket), and over time the idea of the naked horse transferred over to naked people. 

The phrase is slightly crude – you wouldn’t use it to describe nude artworks – but not offensive, it’s roughly similar to describing someone as “butt naked” or “bollock naked” in English. The more polite way to say this might be “tout nu” (totally naked).

If you are looking for another way to say ‘birthday suit’ in French you could use “en costume d’Adam” (in Adam’s suit – a Biblical reference to the naked inhabitants of the Garden of Eden). 

Use it like this

Je me suis mise pas mal à poil dernièrement, mais ce n’est pas un délire exhibo et, dans la vie, c’est plus compliqué – I’ve been getting naked quite a bit lately, but it’s not an exhibitionist thing, life is more complicated than that. – From an interview about nude scenes with the French actress Virgine Efira.

Je préfère dormir à poil en été. Il fait vraiment trop chaud ! – I prefer sleeping totally naked in the summer. It is really too hot!