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French phrase of the Day: Ca s’est joué à un prépuce du général

April has begun which means the presidential elections are just weeks away, so you may need to fish* this out to get involved in the politics chat.

French phrase of the Day: Ca s'est joué à un prépuce du général
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ça s’est joué à un prépuce du général?

Because sometimes you need to liven up politics with a crude but amusing phrase.

What does it mean?

This literally translates as ‘it came down to the general’s foreskin’ but it really means a close-run thing or a very narrow win or loss. In English we might say that someone won or lost ‘by the skin of their teeth’ – ie by a truly tiny margin.

This phrase is often used in a sporting context and can be applied to elections too, although they tend not to use it on TV news coverage, since it’s clearly NSFW. As should hopefully be clear, it’s not one to wheel at during politics chat over lunch with your French in-laws.

Its etymology is slightly convoluted so bear with us.

First of all ‘the general’ in France can only mean one person; Général Charles de Gaulle, saviour of the French nation during WWII.

But it seems that his soldiers and, later, his resistance fighters were less respectful towards the great man – observing that his plans often seemed to come off at the last minute and then seemingly by accident, producing some very narrow victories.

They began to use the phrase ça s’est joué à une bite du général – that came down to the general’s penis – invoking both the last-minute nature of his planning and also implying he was less than well-endowed. We couldn’t possibly comment.

Over time bite – a slang term for penis – evolved into prépuce – foreskin – perhaps because it’s more descriptive or simply more funny.

Either way, the phase made its way out of military circles and into the wider population and remains as a lasting linguistic tribute to the General. Albeit possibly not one that he would have wanted. 

By Olaf Pirol 

* Did you get the fish reference? Well done! This is of course a poisson d’avril – the French version of an April fool.

While WWII soldiers and resistance fighters undoubtedly had plenty of crude phrases, as far as we know none of them involved the intimate anatomy of Charles de Gaulle, who by all accounts was a very competent planner. 

French does have a genuine rude phrase for a close-run thing ça s’est joué à une poil de bite – that came down to a dick-hair. Don’t believe us? Here’s former prime minister Eduoard Philippe using it, albeit clearly filmed unawares.

We do have a lot of entirely genuine French words and phrases in our Word of the Day section – check them out here.

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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.