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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Word of the Day: Atout

When you feel you are winning at life, this might come in handy.

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

Why do I need to know Atout?

You’ll need this word for the next time you find yourself at a French dinner party and someone tries to explain the rules of a card game to you.

What does it mean?

Atout – pronounced ah-too – has two meanings.

It can be used to describe a positive quality, asset, or advantage. You might hear it in sporting contexts, perhaps to refer to the main advantage one team has over another, or perhaps to describe the team’s key player. Oftentimes, it is coupled with the word majeur (major) to emphasise the important quality of the person or thing being described. 

Atout is also the French word for ‘trump card’ in card games. This is especially important if you ever find yourself playing the game Tarot, France’s second most popular card game. In this game, there is a whole set of cards numbered from one to 21 that are called the atouts, and they outrank, or trump, the cards from the regular four suits. 

Similar to its usage in English, you can also use ‘trump card’ colloquially, perhaps to describe a winning strategy or the reason you have an upper hand. 

Use it like this

Elle a huit atouts en main. Elle va sûrement gagner. – She has eight trump cards in her hand. She’s definitely going to win.

Votre atout majeur est votre capacité à parler quatre langues. C’est certainement quelque chose qu’il faut signaler pendant l’entretien d’embauche ! –  Your best asset is your ability to speak four languages. That’s definitely something you should point out during the job interview!

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Système D

It might sound like a military operation, but you will probably have to use 'system D' at least once during your time in France.

French Expression of the Day: Système D

Why do I need to know Système D?

Because if your train was cancelled during a strike, or your childcare arrangements suddenly fall through, then you might need a ‘system D’.

What does it mean?

Système D roughly pronounced sis-tehm day – may sound like the name of a rock band or a computer programming device, but it has little to do with music or coding.

In reality, Système D is a French expression reserved for situations where one must be resourceful and inventive – it is defined as ‘the art of getting by’ or ‘making do’ or perhaps ‘cobbling it together’ and it has been used for several decades in France.

You might use this expression if you find yourself having to make do in a complicated scenario. For example, the French press said parents were forced to adapt after a recent strike closed schools for the day. One French article quoted a parent who said “On fait ce qu’on peut, c’est le système D” (We do what we can, it is a make-do situation).

The “D” part of Système D actually comes from the French word “débrouille (or se débrouiller)” which means “to get by” or to work to put things in order.

Use it like this

Ne vous inquiétez pas, Michel s’adaptera à n’importe quelle situation dans laquelle vous le mettez. C’est un expert du système D. – Don’t worry, Michel will adapt to any situation you put him in. He is very resourceful.

Se rendre au travail était le système D la semaine dernière, alors que toutes les options de transport étaient fermées en raison de la grève. Il fallait être très créatif. – Getting to work was a make-do situation last week, when all public transportation was closed due to the strike. You had to be really creative.

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