For members


French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

This might sound like the cheese for children, but it actually has nothing to do with dairy products.

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know une vache à lait ?

Because if someone describes a potential investment opportunity like this, you might want to consider it.

What does it mean?

Une vache à lait – roughly pronounced oon vash ah lay – translates precisely to ‘a cow with milk’ or ‘a dairy cow.’ However, this phrase has little to do with farming, cheese, or milk.

In practice, une vache à lait is almost synonymous with the English term “cash cow” – or something or someone that is a moneymaker or source of profit. 

The phrase in French comes from the middle of the 16th century and evokes an image of a cow who is being milked without protest, allowing for the farmer to profit off of it. It was gradually extended to people and business ventures as a way of talking about profitability. 

Sometimes, this expression can have a negative connotation, particularly if a person is being called a vache à lait. This would be akin to saying that they are being financially exploited without realising it. 

Use it like this

L’achat de Snapchat a été une vache à lait pour Mark Zuckerberg et Facebook. – The purchase of Snapchat was a moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Les parents ont été accusés d’utiliser leur enfant comme une vache à lait en l’inscrivant à des publicités. Ils ont trouvé cette accusation offensante. – The parents were accused of using their child as a cash cow by signing them up for commercials. They found this accusation offensive.

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For members


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.