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French Word of the Day: Racaille

This offensive term has become a politically-charged insult.

French Word of the Day: Racaille
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know racaille? 

Because it is one of the most infamous slurs in recent French political history. 

What does it mean? 

Racaille, pronounced rack-eye, is often translated as scum, trash or rabble.

The Larousse dictionary defined the term as: “An untrustworthy populace; a category of people considered as vile”. 

The term is obviously highly offensive, but in recent years it’s also taken on an extra political tinge.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, infamously used racailles to describe rioters in Argenteuil, a Parisian suburb. After getting a hostile reception following a visit, he commented to one local resident:

Vous en avez assez de cette bande de racailles ? On va vous en débarrasser – Have you had enough of this scummy gang? We will get rid of them for you. 

It was not the first time that Sarkozy had used offensive language to describe people living in France’s deprived areas and his comments were roundly condemned. 

These days if someone in public life uses it, they tend to be on the right or far right of the political divide.

READ MORE From De Gaulle to Macron: A history of French presidential swearing

The word racaille itself stems from Provençal, one of the many regional dialects in France. It was absorbed into mainstream French in the 15th Century.

There is a verlan version of racaille, spelt kaïra, which is used a pejorative term to describe a poor, lazy or untrustworthy person. 

Use it like this

On y trouve une foule de violeurs, de meurtriers et autres racaille – There are a whole bunch of rapists, murderers and other scumbags 

Ils sont traités comme de la racaille – They are treated like scum

Les notaires? De la racaille! Des mecs qui prennent cent sous pour vous écrire deux lignes – Notaries? They are scum – people who take €100 to write you two lines


There are a number of similar terms, all of which are offensive and should not be used in a formal context: 

Les bas-fonds – The underworld 

La canaille – The scoundrel/creep

La crapule – The thug/crook 

Le gredin – The rogue 

La pègre – The mob 

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French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

This expression doesn't actually have much to do with lunchtime.

French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Why do I need to know chercher midi à quatorze heures?

Because when someone makes what should take fifteen minutes into an hour-long effort, you might want an appropriate phase.

What does it mean?

Chercher midi à quatorze heures – usually pronounced share-shay-mid-ee-ah-cat-orz-ur – literally means “to look for noon at 2 pm.” When taken literally, the expression does not make much sense. However, in practice, it means “to make a simple thing overly complicated.” It is basically the French equivalent of “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

The expression is quite old, but it is still in use…though it might be more common to find it spoken in the countryside rather than on Twitter.

It was first used as early as the 16th century – the version then was “to look for noon at eleven.” As time went on, it changed to reflect its current form in the 17th century. 

As noon is an important marker for the middle of the day, particularly as l’heure de déjeuner (lunch time), the expression makes fun of making something overly difficult. 

You’ll most likely hear this in the negative command form – as it is something you should probably avoid doing.

Use it like this

Pourquoi avoir pris la route la plus longue pour aller au supermarché ? Ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures. – Why take the longest route to get to the supermarket? Don’t overcomplicate things.

Tu n’as pas besoin d’essayer toutes les lettres de l’alphabet pour trouver le Wordle. C’est mieux de penser à des mots simples. Ne cherche pas midi à quatorze heures. – You don’t need to try every letter in the alphabet to get the Wordle. Just think of simple words. Don’t over complicate it.