For members


French Word of the Day: Pélo

If you are looking to integrate into the youth culture of Lyon or Grenoble, then this is the word for you.

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

Why do I need to know pélo?

Because if someone is trying to get your attention on the streets of Lyon you might have this shouted at you.

What does it mean?

Pélo – pronounced pay-low – is originally not French at all. This word likely comes from the Romani language, but has been appropriated into French to be a synonym for the colloquial ‘mec’ (bloke or dude).

The term is most common in Eastern France, particularly in Lyon and Grenoble, but it has begun to stretch westward. You’re likely to hear it in pop or rap music, in informal, young settings, or in the commonly used phrase “y a pas un pélo” which means (there is no one – il n’y a personne).

Regarding its etymology, the original word in Romani is pelo (without the accent), which is a reference to male reproductive organs. It might seem a bit shocking that a synonym for phallus might be used to refer to a person in French, but this is not the first time. The word ‘biloute’ (another word for garçon, or young boy) also finds its origins in referencing the male member. 

It is also not the first time a word with Romani origins found its way into the French lexicon – the word ‘narvalo’ can be used to describe someone who is ‘crazy’ or ‘an imbecile.’

Alternatively, pelo (again, without the accent) in French is also an abbreviation for “local personnel,” an expression taken from military vocabulary used during the colonial era. 

However, it is less likely that the slang word pélo comes from this word.

Use it like this

Nous sommes à la fête mais il y a pas un pélo. Nous n’allons probablement rester que quelques minutes. – We are at the party but no one is here. We are probably only going to stay for a few minutes.

Comment ça va pélo ? T’as des projets pour plus tard ? – How are you dude? Do you have plans for later?

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For members


French phrase of the Day: Trier sur le volet

This expression goes right back to the Middle Ages and has nothing to do with shutters.

French phrase of the Day: Trier sur le volet

Why do I need to know trier sur le volet ?

Because if someone says they chose you for the job and adds this expression, you should be flattered.

What does it mean?

Trier sur le volet pronounced tree-ay sir luh voe-lay – literally translates to “to sort on the shutter” but its real meaning is closest to the English expression “to separate the wheat from the chaff” or even “to find the diamond in the rough.” It is simply to be specifically picked or chosen, and it carries a positive connotation.

Based on the idea of filtering through several options and choosing the best, this expression has a very logical origin story.

These days volets almost always refers to shutters, but this phrase goes back to the Middle Ages when the “volet” was the word for a cloth that was used to sort seeds. Gradually over time, this cloth was transformed into a wooden plate that was used to sort peas and beans. 

The expression went on to refer to more than just seeds, but at the time it was used frequently to stress the importance of actually selecting the good seeds.

So trier sur le volet means selecting the best.

Nowadays, you might hear this expression being used by a French employer talking about the different candidates she is choosing from, or maybe you’ll hear it as someone discusses their real estate options.

Use it like this

Les joueurs de l’équipe de France de handball ont été triés sur le volet – The players for France’s handball team were carefully selected for the job. 

J’ai finalement trié sur le volet. Amy sera la parfaite stagiaire d’été. – I’ve finally separated the wheat from the chaff. Amy will be a great summer intern.