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French Expression of the Day: Raz-de-marée

This geographical term is becoming more common in everyday speech.

French Expression of the Day: Raz-de-marée
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know Raz-de-marée? 

Because its meaning has moved beyond the original use of the word and made it into daily conversation.

What does it mean? 

Raz-de-marée, sometimes written raz de marée and pronounced “rah duh mah-ray“, is a French expression used to denote a massive wave/tidal wave/tsunami. 

The Larousse online dictionary defines it as “an enormous wave that can reach 20-30 metres in height, caused by a storm, volcanic eruption, an earthquake or landslide.”

Hopefully those conditions will not apply to readers of The Local.

But the figurative sense of the expression certainly will: “A brutal and massive phenomenon that disturbs a social or political situation”. 

The term has been employed to describe the pandemic like so:  

La cinquième vague s’est muée en raz-de-marée – The fifth wave has mutated into a tsunmai

Olivier Véran a parlé d’un “raz de marée” pour qualifier les contaminations – Olivier Veran spoke about a tidal wave to describe the contamination 

But it can also be used in a political sense, normally to describe a crushing election victory – otherwise known as a landslide election win. 

Le parti a étendu son emprise sur le pouvoir par un raz de marée électoral – The party extended its grip on power with a massive election win 

La ville symbole du raz-de-marée de La République en marche en 2017 pourrait virer au champ de mines en 2022 – The town that was symbolic of the République en Marche landslide victory in 2017 could turn into a mine field in 2022


To talk about Covid, we can also use the terms: vague and even méga-vague

It is common to use weather metaphors to describe social/political upheavals in French. You could also use for example: tempête sociale/economique, tremblement de terre politique and tsunami electoral

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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.