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French Word of the Day: Funambule

This French word can be used metaphorically to describe the balancing acts that life imposes on us.

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

Why do I need to know funambule?

Because sometimes you need to strike a compromise. 

What does it mean? 

Funambule, pronounced foo-nam-bool, means tightrope but can also be used to mean tightrope-walker. 

France has had a number of famous funambules including Charles Blondin, who famously walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls in 1859. 

In 2021, French funambule Nathan Paulin walked across a 670 metre tightrope between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot – the longest such crossing ever achieved in an urban environment. It was the second time he achieved such a feat. 

French tightrope walker Nathan Paulin walks along a 670 meter wire between the Eiffel tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot in 2021.

French tightrope walker Nathan Paulin walks along a 670 meter wire between the Eiffel tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot in 2021. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

In a literal sense, you can can use funambule like this.

Lorsque je suis allé au cirque, j’ai assisté à un numéro de funambule absolument incroyable – When I went to the circus, I saw an absolutely incredible tightrope act

Un funambule se déplace sur un fil tendu à une certaine hauteur du sol – A tightrope walker movers along a tense line at a certain height above the ground 

But you can also use funambule metaphorically, when describing a balancing act between two competing interests. In this case, you would use exercise de funambule or numéro de funambule

La pratique politique se traduit par un exercice de funambule perpétuel, oscillant entre espoir et déception – Politics is a perpetual balancing act, oscillating between hope and despair

Le producteur doit se livrer à un véritable exercice de funambule lors qu’il essaie d’agencer ces divers éléments – The producer must deliver a try balancing act when he tries to bring together these various elements

Jusqu’à quand la commissaire est prête à jouer ce numéro de funambule ? – How long is the officer willing to play this balancing act

Similar expressions 

There are a number of related expressions to describe the act of compromising. 

The most straightforward is faire un compromis – to make a compromise. 

Transiger, réconcilier, mettre d’accord, mettre en harmonie also carry the same meaning. 

But there is an expression that reflects the fact that balancing two competing interests is not always easy. 

Ménager la chèvre et le chou literally translates as: to house the goat and cabbage. But it is used to suggest that someone is trying to please two opposing parties at the same time. 

The logic is that if you leave a goat and a cabbage together, the goat will eventually eat the cabbage. So the idea is that they should be stored separately. 

Nous avons un gouvernement qui pense qu’il peut ménager la chèvre et le chou – We have a government that thinks it can satisfy everyone

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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