For members


French Expression of the Day: Au forceps

This is a useful expression for describing a task which requires great effort - and may even apply to your new year's resolution.

French Expression of the Day: Au forceps
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know au forceps? 

Because this is how health authorities have described efforts to convince anti-vaxxers get their shots. 

What does it mean? 

Au forceps, pronounced “oh four-seps”, is a French expression used to qualify a task as particularly difficult. It is one of the few French words where the s on the end is not silent. 

In both English and French, forceps are medical tools used as pincers or tweezers, often in surgery.

The word also describes the instruments sometimes used to help pull a baby out during a difficult childbirth. 

How to use it

Convaincre les gens est un travail au forceps – Convincing people is difficult work 

Le budget a été adopté au forceps – The budget was passed with difficulty

L’équipe a eu deux victoires au forceps – The team won two difficult victories 

La monnaie unique a été conçue comme le moyen de faire advenir au forceps une nation européenne – The single currency was conceived of as a tough way to bring Europe together as a nation 



Avec beaucoup de peine


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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.