For members


French Word of the Day: Bombe à retardement

This word is useful in more than just military contexts.

French Word of the Day: Bombe à retardement
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know bombe à retardement? 

Because there is always a crisis just around the corner. 

What does it mean? 

A bombe à retardement, pronounced “bom ah ray-tard-ah-mon”, literally means “time bomb”. 

As in English, the French use this both literally and as a metaphor for something that will become a problem in the future. 

It can be used in a wide range of catastrophic contexts.

Typically, it would be employed to describe a situation rather than a person. 

The plural is bombes à retardement – the ‘s’ is silent. 

How do I use it? 

La situation est une bombe à retardement – The situation is a time bomb 

Une centrale nucléaire, sur terre ou sous terre, c’est une bombe à retardement – A nuclear power plant, above ground or underground, is a ticking time bomb.

Le pays est confronté à une bombe à retardement au plan démographique – The country is confronted by a demographic time bomb

La question de savoir si la torture est justifiée dans les scénarios de «bombe à retardement» reste controversée – The question of whether torture is justified in a time bomb situation remains controversial 


Une grenade dégoupillée, or “unpinned grenade”, is another explosive metaphor to describe a pending disaster. 

It can be used to describe both a situation and a person. 

Zemmour est une grenade dégoupillée pour faire exploser la droite – Zemmour is an unpinned grenade poised to destroy the political right

Cette nouvelle souche virale est une grenade dégoupillée – This new viral strain is an unpinned grenade

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

A brand new coinage in the French language that reflects the changing times.

French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

Why do I need to know la Première ministre?

Because France has one now.

What does it mean?

La Première ministre – usually pronounced lah prem-ee-air mean-east-ruh– translates as “the prime minister,” but this spelling is different from what you might be used to seeing.

This title is feminised, indicating that the prime minister in question is a woman. Under former PMs such as Jean Castex, the masculine title Le Premier ministre was used.

Élisabeth Borne made headlines on May 16th not only because she was appointed as France’s second female prime minister, but also because she will be the first to use the feminisation of the work title: Madame la Première ministre. The female prime minister who held the position before her, Edith Cresson, used the masculine version of the title.

Feminising work titles has been controversial in France, and most titles like “le Premier ministre” have been automatically put in masculine form.

But in 2019, France’s infamous Academie Francaise, which polices the French language and typically resists any sweeping changes to it, changed their stance and said there was “no obstacle in principle” to the wholesale feminisation of job titles. 

Use it like this

Le Président Emmanuel Macron a fait une annonce importante. Élisabeth Borne est la Première ministre. – President Emmanuel Macron made an important announcement: Élisabeth Borne is the prime minister.

“Madame la Première ministre, qui avez-vous choisi pour diriger votre nouveau gouvernement ?” a demandé le journaliste. – “Madame Prime Minister, who have you chosen to lead your new government?” asked the journalist.