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French word of the Day: Rabougrissement

Emmanuel Macron raised eyebrows when he used this phrase in an election rally, as it's more usually used by gardeners.

French word of the Day: Rabougrissement
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know rabougrissement?

If you’re a keen gardener this will undoubtedly come in handy, and it’s also become necessary for those who follow French politics.

What does it mean? 

Rabougrissement is most usually translated as ‘stunting’ or ‘shrivelling’ but it’s unusual to see the word as an adverb, it’s more usually used as a verb – rabougrir – or an adjective – rabougri/rabougrie.

It means stunted, shrivelled or generally to have growth or development slowed or halted.

It’s mostly commonly used to refer to plants;

Les fortes gelées ont rabougri les jeunes pousses – the heavy frosts have stunted the young shoots

La nouvelle maladie a laissé les plantes rabougries et ratatinées – the new disease has left the plants stunted and shrivelled

It’s also possible to use it more figuratively to describe growth or development that has been stopped or slowed by an external force, and it’s in this sense that Macron meant it when he warned of le grand rabougrissement de la France – the great stunting of France.

He was talking about the danger from the far-right and their desire to look back into the past and to isolate France from the wider world, warning that this would stunt France’s growth and future prosperity.

We should point out that this usage is not particularly common and raised a few eyebrows in France, while Politico’s correspondent Maïa de La Baume  tweeted ‘good luck to the foreign correspondent who have to try and translate that’ upon hearing the phrase. 

But while it’s probably not a phrase that you will wheel out often in your local café, it’s handy to know what Macron is talking about.

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For members


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.