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French Word of the Day: Geste

When times get tough in France, out come les gestes . . .

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

Why do I need to know Geste ?

Because this is a common word in France, particularly during crisis times.

What does it mean?

Geste – pronounced halfway between ‘shest’ and ‘jest’ with a soft ‘g’ – is defined as an action or ‘movement of the body.’ In English, it is often translated as ‘gesture,’ but its popular usage in French typically does not quite carry this same meaning. Often, it is used when the French government recommends that individuals take certain actions or adopt specific behaviours.

You may have become familiar with this word during the pandemic, in the form of ‘les gestes barrières.’ This phrase referred to all those habits and social distancing measures that people were advised to do in order to protect themselves and others, such as wearing a mask, sneezing into your elbow, washing hands regularly, etc.

It has also been used during France’s energy crisis, as consumers are encouraged to adopt ‘gestes’ or sometimes ‘écogestes’ – actions that reduce their energy usage. These might include turning the lights off when they are not in use, bringing the heating down a degree or two or taking a shower instead of a bath.

Typically, this word is used for something that is not obligatory, but instead recommended or encouraged.

In English ‘gesture’ often means more symbolic action – although it can have this meaning in France too, it more usually means a concrete action or behaviour change.

Use it like this

Chaque geste compte – every action counts, this is the slogan the French government will be using this winter to encourage people to cut their energy usage.

Je lui ai envoyé des fleurs, je veux juste faire un geste pour montrer mon soutien – I sent her some flowers, I just want to make a gesture to show my support

Je pratique toujours les gestes barrières de la pandémie et je n’ai pas eu un seul rhume cet hiver – I still do the hygiene gestures from the pandemic and I haven’t had a single cold this winter

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Les plus modestes

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with provocative dress or bragging about your achievements.

French Expression of the Day: Les plus modestes

Why do I need to know les plus modestes ?

Because you might want to understand why “the most modest” are always called out in government announcements and in articles

What does it mean?

Les plus modestes – roughly pronounced lay ploos moe-dests – literally translates to “the most modest.” 

At first glance, this phrase in French might be misleading for anglophones because “modest” is a bit of a false-friend.

In English, one might think of a Jane Austen character who is very respectable and never shows too much skin, or perhaps just someone who is very self-deprecating about their own achievements.

But in the French phrase, les plus modestes means people who are on low incomes or generally don’t have much money.

You might also see the phrase “les ménages modestes” (low-income households). 

You will often hear this term when the French government or press are discussing subsidy plans or budgeting efforts to assist low-income families.

It’s different to les plus fragiles – which is also often used in government announcements but refers to people who vulnerable for health reasons, such as the elderly or people with long-term medical conditions.

Use it like this

Pour protéger les plus modestes, le gouvernement a annoncé une subvention spécifique pour aider à payer l’énergie. – To protect the most vulnerable households, the government has announced a specific subsidy to help pay for energy.

Même avec les interventions du gouvernement, l’inflation touchera surtout les plus modestes. – Even with government interventions, inflation will impact low-income households the most.