French Expression of the Day: À huis clos

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

This French expression is not just the title of the famous play by Jean-Paul Sartre


Why do I need to know à huis clos?

Because you might see French newspapers use this expression anytime a trial or court case makes headlines

What does it mean?

À huis clos – roughly pronounced ah we kloe –  means “discreetly” or “behind closed doors.” 


Most likely, you’ll see the French press use this terminology to describe a closed-door meeting - or a “réunion à huis clos” - when discussing politicians or public figures. 

It is also often used in courtroom settings: a judge might order the hearing to be held in private if proceedings are particularly sensitive, or if they could be a “danger to the public order”.

The expression dates back to the 16th century, and it is originally derived from the Latin word “ustium”, which gave rise to the old French word “huis” - meaning door. 

Originally, it simply meant “closed door” but over time the phrase went on to mean “in private” or “without publicity.”

Use it like this

Ils ont tenu la réunion sensible un huis clos, pour être sûrs que personne d'autre ne pourrait écouter. – They held the sensitive meeting behind closed doors, to be sure that no one else could listen in.

Le public ne serait pas admis dans la procédure judiciaire car le juge a ordonné que l'audience se déroule à huis clos. – The public would not be admitted into the judicial proceeding because the judge ordered the hearing to be behind closed doors.


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