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French Expression of the Day: Mettre en veilleuse

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

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

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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French Word of the Day: Blasé

Even though this French word has made its way into English, in French it has an extra emphasis. Here is how to use it in both languages.

French Word of the Day: Blasé

Why do I need to know blasé ?

Because you you can use this word in both English and French, although its strength is slightly different. 

What does it mean?

Blasé – roughly pronounced blah-zay –  is a word that English speakers might be familiar with already, as it has entered our vocabulary.

In French, the official definition of blasé is a bit more harsh than what English-speakers might be used to. It is defined by La Rousse dictionary as “a person who thinks he has exhausted the human experience and is disgusted with everything.” 

In contrast, English dictionaries define blasé simply as ‘bored’ and ‘jaded’ and it’s common to use is quite casually such as “I do so many work presentations that I’m a bit blasé about them now”. 

Overall, blasé denotes a level of apathy in both languages but in French it’s less flippant – oftentimes describing a person who is not easily impressed or someone who is disengaged with the world. Keep in mind that when you use this word in French, you will have to gender it based on who you are referring to – so if the word is describing a woman, then it would be blasée.

A common French expression you might hear using this word would be “blasé de la vie” – which means to be in a general state of apathy, or to be simply disengaged from daily life.

The word comes from the French past participle of the verb blaser – which means ‘to satiate.’ However, English-speakers might be surprised that blasé’s true origins are likely more Dutch than French. 

Use it like this

J’ai fait une blague mais il est tellement blasé ces jours-ci qu’il n’a pas rigolé. – I made a joke but he has been so apathetic lately that he didn’t laugh.

Elle n’a pas souri ni ri pendant l’entretien, alors qu’il s’agissait de l’emploi de ses rêves. Je ne sais pas pourquoi elle était si blasée. – She did not smile or laugh during the interview, even though it was for her dream job. I don’t know why she was so disengaged about it.