For members


French Word of the Day: Promiscuité

French health experts will probably tell you to avoid this at present - but not for the reasons you might think.

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

Why do I need to know promiscuité?

Because you’ll likely see health experts and French ministers telling you to avoid this, and you might be a curious as to why

What does it mean?

Promiscuité – usually pronounced pro-miss-cue-ih-tay– looks quite similar to the English word promiscuity – ‘having or involving multiple sexual partners’ –  and while this is one of the definitions of the word in French, you’re more likely to see it used in different contexts. 

The French word promiscuité – which is a female noun – also means overcrowding or ‘many people in a small space.’ So if you’ve seen announcements from French ministers telling people to avoid promiscuité on public transport or in concert halls when Covid cases are high, they are not telling the French to avoid romantic interactions, rather they are advising that people stay clear of crowded spaces. 

Though this word has been frequently used in health contexts in recent years, it can describe any overcrowded environment – say a beach or museum. In fact, some tourist spots have been decried for their promiscuité – like the beautiful calanques in Marseille, with politicians and experts proposing plans to limit tourist numbers to combat said promiscuité.

As mentioned previously, the word in French can also have a sexual connotation, but you would more likely see it written as ‘promiscuité sexuelle’ in this case.

Use it like this

C’est la plage que vous ne devriez pas fréquenter si vous voulez éviter la promiscuité. Cependant, vous pouvez aussi envisager d’y aller tôt le matin, quand il y a moins de monde. – This is the beach you should not go to if you want to avoid overcrowding. That being said, you could go early in the morning when there are fewer people.

La promiscuité dans les transports publics est un enfer. Les responsables doivent trouver des solutions. –  Overcrowding on public transportation is hell. Public officials must find solutions. 

Member comments

  1. “you could go early in the morning when there are less people.” – FEWER people, please, he said pedantically

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For members


French Expression of the Day: À la traîne

Procrastinators might be used to this expression.

French Expression of the Day: À la traîne

Why do I need to know à la traîne ?

Because you probably would prefer to be the opposite of this expression

What does it mean?

À la traîne – roughly pronounced ah lah trahynn – is actually nothing to do with trains.

It means to “lag behind” or to be “at the end” or “at the bottom of the class”. 

It is the opposite of the expression “en avance” which is used to describe the person or group ‘in the front’ or ‘at the top.’

The expression is likely derived from the verb ‘traîner’ in French means ‘to drag’ – usually used when a physical item is trailing behind.

You might see French media make use of this phrase when discussing a topic or theme that has been on the back-burner or less of a priority, as it is often ‘lagging behind’ other items.

Not to be confused with

This sounds similar to the phrase “en train de,” which has a totally different meaning – it means “in the process of” or “in the course of”.

Use it like this

Elle était à la traîne par rapport au reste de la classe dans l’apprentissage de la table de multiplication. – She is lagging behind the rest of the class in learning the multiplication table.

L’article explique que les salaires des enseignants sont toujours à la traîne par rapport à ceux des autres professions, notamment en ce qui concerne les augmentations de salaire. – The article explains that teachers’ salaries are always trailing behind those of other professions, particularly concerning pay raises.