French Word of the Day: Kärcher

French Word of the Day: Kärcher
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
If you hear a French politician using this word, it is a pretty clear sign that they lean to the right.

Why do I need to know the word Kärcher? 

Because right-wing French presidential candidate, Valérie Pécresse, used it controversially on the campaign trail and everyone in France is talking about it.

What does it mean? 

Kärcher, pronounced “car-share” in French, is a German engineering company, it makes many different products but specialises in high-pressure cleaning equipment – typically used to blast grime off vehicles, buildings or pavements. 

Politicians in France have from time to time used it as a metaphor for cleaning up what they perceive to be crime-ridden areas. 

The term was initially used by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2005, who was serving as the country’s Interior Minister at the time. 

On a visit to the département of Seine-Saint-Denis following the murder of an 11-year-old boy, he said that he wanted to nettoyer au kärcher (“power hose”) the neighbourhood. Many residents were angry at being uniformly branded as dirt. The Kärcher company later issued a statement denouncing Sarkozy’s words. 

That same year, Sarkozy, who would later go on to become president, told residents of Argenteuil, a Parisian suburb, on va vous débarrasser de la racaille (“we will clear you of the scum”). 

More recently, Valérié Pécresse, presidential candidate for the centre right Les Républicains party echoed his words. 

Il faut ressortir le kärcher (“we need to take the power cleaner out again”), she said, accusing ex-president François Hollande and the current president, Emmanuel Macron, of being soft on crime.

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Pécresse qualified this, saying:

Aujourd’hui il est temps de nettoyer les quartiers – Today, it is time to clean up the neighbourhoods.

Il faut traquer les caïds, les voyous, les criminels et les dealers –  We have to hunt down the kingpins, the thugs, the criminals and the drug dealers. 

READ MORE Who’s who in the crowded field vying to unseat Macron in French presidential election


Pécresse and Sarkozy are far from the only French politicians to use have used colourful language. 

Emmanuel Macron recently said: Les non-vaccinés, j’ai très envie de les emmerder – I really want to piss off the unvaccinated

François Holland reportedly used to refer to poor people as sans dents – “without teeth”

Charles de Gaulles once said: Les Français sont des veaux  – The French are calves (suggesting weak, easily led)

And Napoleon once described a man who betrayed him as: La merde dans un bas de soie – the shit at the bottom of a silk stocking. 

READ MORE A history of colourful language from France’s leaders

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