For members


French Word of the Day: Calvaire

This word, with biblical connotations, perhaps reflects the condition of many in these times we are living in.

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

Why do I need to know calvaire?

Because life is suffering – according to Buddha, at least. 

What does it mean?

Calvaire, pronounced cal-vare, is a noun that is generally used to mean: ordeal, misery, plight or pain. 

You can also translate it as calvary, a little-used and archaic English word of the same meaning. 

Today, many people use calvaire ironically to exaggerate the gravity of a situation or make things out to be worse than they really are. 

Le Calvaire is also how the French translate the name of Golgotha – the hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was supposedly crucified. 

A less common usage of calvaire is as a synonym for crucifixion and to describe outside Christian monuments composed of one or sometimes three crucifixes. 

In Quebecois, calvaire is used as a swear-word, loosely translating as fuck or bloody hell. 

This calvaire, or calvary, in Brittany is one of thousands in the western French region.

This calvaire, or calvary, in Brittany is one of thousands in the western French region. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

Use it like this

Nous sommes en train de vivre un véritable calvaire – We are living through a true ordeal

Le calvaire des enfants qui  sont victimes de la guerre a mobilisé l’attention du monde entier – The suffering of child victims of the war caught the attention of the whole world

On peut imaginer le calvaire que vit cette personne – We can imagine the misery of this person 

On a vécu un calvaire – We went through hell

Sondage de la présidentielle : Macron insubmersible, le calvaire de Pécresse – Presidential poll: Unstoppable Macron, the misery of Pécresse


There are plenty of ways to write about suffering in French. In the interest of laïcité, you can find some non-biblical ones below: 

La souffrance – Suffering

Le deuil – Grief

La douleur – Pain

La tristesse – Sadness 

La galère – Misery 

Le supplice – Ordeal 

La peine – Heartache 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: La clim’

You'll definitely want to know about this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: La clim'

Why do I need to know la clim’?

Because the lack of green spaces in cities might find you looking desperately for fresh air.

What does it mean?

La clim’, pronounced la-cleem, means air conditioning, it is a shortened version of la climatisation.

Climatisation comes from the word climatiseur, which itself comes from Klima in Greek and means the inclination of planet Earth from the equator to the poles. This inclination of the planet on its axis is responsible for the seasons and if you find yourself in a French city in August your inclination will definitely be towards climatisation.

Air-conditioning in private homes is not common France, some hotels have it but not all and in the summer months restaurants will often advertise air-con if they have it, as a way of luring in hot-and-bothered tourists.

If you find yourself desperate for cool air, head to a supermarket – almost all French supermarkets are air-conditioned in the summer. Or for a more fun option just head to the nearest city fountain or water feature and join the locals who are splashing around to cool off.

Use it like this

Il fait très chaud, avez-vous la clim’ dans votre hotel ? – It’s really hot, do you have air-con in the hotel?

Je n’aime pas mettre la clim’ en route car cela est mauvais pour la santé et l’environnement – I don’t like turning on the AC, it’s bad for my health and for the environment

Il fait froid, peut-on s’il vous plait éteindre la clim’ ? – It’s cold, could  we turn off the air-con?

La clim’ fait beaucoup de bruit, pouvons-nous la mettre en sourdine ? – This AC is really noisy, could we turn it down?


Un climatiseur – the formal name for an air-conditioner (in French the air conditioning is feminine by the air conditioner is masculine)

Un ventilateur – a ventilator

Un Brumisateur – a ‘fogger’ – these machines which pump out cool water vapour are often seen on the streets and in parks during the summer

Un Rafraichisseur d’air – an air freshener