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French Expression of the Day: Ça va pas la tête?

The person asking you this is probably not wondering about your migraine.

French Expression of the Day: Ça va pas la tête?
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ça va pas la tête ?

Because you might have someone ask you this question, and you’ll want to have a snarky response prepared ahead of time.

What does it mean?

Ça va pas la tête – pronounced sah vah pah lah tett – translates word for word to ‘It is not okay the head?’ which makes little sense. In reality, the phrase means “are you out of your mind?” or “are you mad/ crazy/ mental?” or “are you not right in the head?”

These English equivalents might sound a bit harsh, but the expression can be used jokingly or in light situations too.

It is certainly much nicer than the other way to ask someone if they are insane – “T’es malade ou quoi?” (Are you sick or what?). The expression is almost always posed as a hypothetical question or side comment and can be quite aggressive.

While you could also say “t’es fou?” (are you crazy?) there is something humorous about ça va pas la tête for the English speaker whose mind conjures up the direct translation and pictures a person’s head simply not functioning properly. 

Parents might use this expression to cajole their child for doing something silly or bizarre, pet owners might decry their animal who begs for food every five minutes, and managers annoyed with their intern’s mix-ups might all use this expression. That being said, it can of course be used in genuine anger, so tone and context will always be important for being able to decipher how serious someone’s ça va pas la tête really is.

Use it like this

Tu as fait tout le tour du parc au lieu de juste le traverser ? Ça t’a probablement pris une demi-heure de plus, ça va pas la tête ? – You walked all the way around the park instead of just walking through it? That probably took you a half hour extra, are you mad? 

Mais ça va pas la tête ! Comment peut-il espérer que je finisse trois jours de travail dans la matinée ? – Has he lost his mind? How can he expect that I finish three days worth of work in just one morning?

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For members


French Word of the Day: Poêle

The season of the poêle is approaching.

French Word of the Day: Poêle

Why do I need to know poêle ?

Because you might be confused why your friends said they plan to heat their home using a frying pan this winter.

What does it mean?

Poêle – roughly pronounced pwahl – translates exactly to “stove” and is also often used in a shortened form of poêle à frire (frying pan).

But that’s not why people suddenly start talking about them as the temperatures fall, as a poêle is also an alternative heating method.

In English, we would call these log-burners or wood (or pellet) burning stoves. There are two different types – un poêle à bois (wood-burner) or un poêle à granulés (pellet-burner).

These can be used as an extra heater or simply as a nice focal point in the living room, but certain types of poêle can also be linked up to the main heating system or water-heating system, so have a more practical application.

Some people also use the hot surface of the poêle to boil a kettle on or to cook on, although they’re usually used as a supplement to an electric or gas stove. 

Amid France’s discussion surrounding energy shortages and the price of electricity and gas, les poêles have been more frequently referenced.

Be careful not to confuse this word with ‘poils’ which is the French word for animal fur, but is pronounced very similarly, or even à poil which is a colloquial word for being naked.

Use it like this

J’ai installé un poêle à bois dans ma maison. Le processus a pris beaucoup de temps, mais j’ai pu bénéficier de certaines aides gouvernementales. – I installed a wood-burning stove in my home. The process took a long time, but I was able to benefit from some government subsidies.

Elle a chauffé sa maison avec le poêle tout l’hiver pour éviter d’utiliser l’électricité. – She heated her home using the wood-burner all winter to avoid using electricity.