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French Expression of the Day: À poil

Some people prefer to sleep like this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: À poil
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know à poil ?

Because if someone invites you to come to a beach like this and you don’t know the meaning of this expression, then you might be in for a bit of a surprise.

What does it mean?

À poil – roughly pronounced ah pwahl – is an expression that makes use of the French word for an animal’s fur or its coat. A synonym might be fourrure. However, the expression as it has come to be used does not have to do with animals’ coats – it actually means to be naked. 

How a phrase referring to animal’s fur came to signify nakedness goes all the way back to the 17th century and the world of horseback-riding. At the time, one could either ride a horse with a saddle or cover (blanket), or you could ride bareback. The phrase for doing so was monter l’animal à cru (“à cru” meaning ‘bare’ or ‘raw’) which became monter un cheval à poil – to ride the horse with only its fur.

In this case, the horse was seen as naked (lacking its saddle or blanket), and over time the idea of the naked horse transferred over to naked people. 

The phrase is slightly crude – you wouldn’t use it to describe nude artworks – but not offensive, it’s roughly similar to describing someone as “butt naked” or “bollock naked” in English. The more polite way to say this might be “tout nu” (totally naked).

If you are looking for another way to say ‘birthday suit’ in French you could use “en costume d’Adam” (in Adam’s suit – a Biblical reference to the naked inhabitants of the Garden of Eden). 

Use it like this

Je me suis mise pas mal à poil dernièrement, mais ce n’est pas un délire exhibo et, dans la vie, c’est plus compliqué – I’ve been getting naked quite a bit lately, but it’s not an exhibitionist thing, life is more complicated than that. – From an interview about nude scenes with the French actress Virgine Efira.

Je préfère dormir à poil en été. Il fait vraiment trop chaud ! – I prefer sleeping totally naked in the summer. It is really too hot!

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French Expression of the Day: Les coiffeurs

Not just the haircare professionals

French Expression of the Day: Les coiffeurs

Why do I need to know les coiffeurs ?

Because you may need this expression when watching sports, as well as when discussing your hairstyle.

What does it mean?

Les coiffeurs roughly pronounced lay qua-fur –  means “the hairdressers,” and normally this exact translation is correct – if you go to a hairdresser in France, they will be called a coiffeur.

READ ALSO Need-to-know vocab for getting a haircut

But the expression has another meaning – one specific to sport. A “match des coiffeurs” describes a game where the substitute players, or the second-stringers play instead of the stars of the team. It usually happens during a tournament when a team has already qualified for the next stage and so opts to rest their star players in games that are not must-wins. 

The phrase has a few possible origins. The first is from football lore – apparently substitutes used to comb their teammates’ hair during a competition. The second hypothesis is that it was coined by Luis Fernandez, a first-string player who was on the Paris-Saint Germain football team in the 1980s. He reportedly said that “substitutes were not likely to get their hair ruffled” because they would be staying on the bench.

The third possibility is the simple etymological origins of the verb “coiffer” – which apparently has a second meaning that involves “getting the upper hand on your rival.” 

France has many other football related terms that come in handy during the World Cup – one is “nettoyer la toile d’arraigner” (to clean up the spider’s web). 

READ ALSO French phrases for watching the World Cup

This does not just refer to doing your dusting around the apartment – in football means to score a goal, but such an impressive goal that the goalie did not have any chance of stopping it. 

And of course, the next time you are enjoying football and using the expression “les coiffeurs,” you’ll want to avoid being called a “footix.” 

READ MORE: Word of the day: Footix

While this was once the name of the mascot for the 1998 World Cup (held in France), the term now has a broader meaning to describe a person who has just jumped on the bandwagon, or someone who is not normally a football fan but has made a show of following the World Cup, for instance. 

Use it like this

Les coiffeurs de l’équipe de France ont joué contre la Tunisie hier soir et ils ont gagné. – France’s B-Team played against Tunisia last night and they won.

C’était un match de coiffeurs car les joueurs titulaires étaient trop épuisés et avaient besoin de se reposer. – It was a match of second-stringers because the starting players were too exhausted and needed to rest.