For members


French Expression of the Day: Poudre de perlimpinpin

This expression was cast into the spotlight by Emmanuel Macron during a debate ahead of the 2017 French presidential election and is already cropping up again in the latest presidential race.

French Word of the Day: Poudre de perlimpinpin
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know poudre de perlimpinpin? 

Because some solutions are little more than a mirage. 

What does it mean? 

Poudre de perlimpinpin, pronounced poo-druh duh pearl-am-pan-pan, is a term used when a charlatan proposes an unrealistic solution to a problem. 

In English, we could loosely translate the expression to mean snake oil, magic beans, magic potion, fairy dust, a miracle cure or a magic wand – in short something completely useless that is sold to the credulous and naive. 

One theory for the origins of this phrase is that in 17th century France, doctors used herbal medicine made from prêle (horsetail) and pimpin (Pandanus montanus). When used together, these plants formed the neologism of prelinpinpin, which later became perlimpinpin. Medicine has since advanced beyond this remedy. 

It’s actually a pretty old-fashioned phrase that was not widely used, but it gained fresh impetus during the 2017 presidential elections, Emmanuel Macron used it in a TV debate with Marine Le Pen to discredit her ideas. 

READ MORE The new French words we learned thanks to Macron and Le Pen’s verbal joust

Le Pen had proposed expelling everyone on France’s terrorist watchlist from the country and closing the borders. 

Macron, who went on to win the election, replied:

Ce que vous proposez, comme d’habitude, c’est de la poudre de perlimpinpin – What you propose, as usual, is a false solution

A remix of Macron’s statement soon went viral. 

The expression came to be associated with Macron and has now been turned against him in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election. 

The Senate leader of The Republicans, conservative political party, argued in December that the government could not sustain such high levels of spending in response to the pandemic. 

Il faut sortir des solutions à la poudre de Perlimpinpin – We need to get away from magic solutions 

During recent convoi de la liberté (freedom convoy) protests against Covid restrictions, one woman held a sign saying:

Non à la carotte vaccinale et au certificat poudre de perlimpinpin – No to the vaccine incentive and to the magic certificate 

What kind of person proposes poudre de perlimpinpin?  

Someone who proposes an unrealistic solution to a problem may be known by the following labels: 

Charlatan – Charlatan

Cancaner – Quack

Imposteur – Imposter 

Populiste – Populist

Escroc – Fraud

Bonimenteur/Menteur – Liar

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French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

This is definitely not lip synching.

French Expression of the Day: Chanter faux

Why do I need to know Chanter faux ?

Because if you were not blessed with a beautiful singing voice, then this might be a good phrase to know. 

What does it mean?

Chanter faux – pronounced shahn-tay foe – literally means to ‘fake sing.’ You might assume this expression would mean ‘lip sync’ in French, but its true meaning is to sing out of tune. (Lip synching is chanter en playback).

It joins a chorus of other French expressions about bad singing, like chanter comme une casserole (to sing like a saucepan) or chanter comme une seringue (to sing like a siren).  

Chanter faux is actually the most correct way to describe someone being off key, so it might be a better option than comparing another’s voice to a cooking utensil. 

You might have seen this expression pop up recently amid the drought, as people call for rain dances and rain singing (where there is no shame in singing badly).

Use it like this

Pendant l’audition pour la pièce, Sarah a chanté faux. Malheureusement, elle n’a pas obtenu le rôle. – During her audition for the play, Sarah sang out of tune. Sadly, she did not get a role.

Si on fait un karaoké, tu verras comme je chante mal. Je chante vraiment faux, mais je m’en fiche. Il s’agit de s’amuser. – If we do karaoke you will see how badly I sing. I am really out of tune, but I don’t care. It’s all about having fun.