French Expression of the Day: Mettre en veilleuse

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French Expression of the Day: Mettre en veilleuse
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

While it might look like this expression has to do with old-age, it does not.


Why do I need to know mettre en veilleuse ?

Because this phrase might look easily understandable at first glance, but it probably means something different than you might have expected.

What does it mean?

Mettre en veilleuse – roughly pronounced met-ruh ahn vay-yuhz - translates to “put on the small lamp.” 

However, the expression actually means something that is no longer a priority or is not going to happen imminently  - it's similar to “put something on the backburner” or to “put something on hold” or "on standby" or (in Ireland) "put it on the long finger".


A veilleuse is French for nightlight, or a small lamp one might put in the bedroom that stays on at a low brightness, but does not impede one from sleeping.

The expression, thus, was born from the idea that the light is almost in idle mode - available in the background, but not too noticeable. 

If directed at a person, this expression can be a way of telling them to be quiet or lower their town - to become less conspicuous. When used in this way, the phrase is more of an insult, so context is important when using mettre en veilleuse.

You might also see this phrase being used in French politics, if a person or subject has been put on the back burner, that means they were deliberately taken out of the limelight.

Use it like this

Ce n'était pas sa priorité, elle l'a donc mis en veilleuse pour le faire quand elle aurait du temps libre. – It was not her top priority, so she put it on the back burner to do when she had free time.

Le parti politique a déclaré qu'il avait des affaires plus urgentes à traiter, et a donc mis les questions des électeurs en veilleuse. – The political party claimed they had more pressing matters to attend to, so they put the voters' questions on the back burner.


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