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French Expression of the Day: Les coiffeurs

Not just the haircare professionals

French Expression of the Day: Les coiffeurs
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

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French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

He's the legendary Englishman who is surprisingly relevant to French political discourse.

French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

Why do I need to know Robin des bois?

Because you might be wondering why the French reference this English outlaw during protest movements 

What does it mean?

Robin des bois roughly pronounced roe-bahn day bwah – is the French version of “Robin Hood” – the legendary outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. 

Robin Hood is part of English folklore, with the first references to him occurring sometime during the 13th or 14th century. He did not become Robin des bois for some time – as the legend did not spread to the majority of French people until at least the 18th or 19th century. 

Robin des bois most likely made his big entrance on the French stage in the 19th century when the novel Ivanhoe (1819), which tells tales of medieval England, was translated into French. 

The fabled outlaw was welcomed by the French, particularly romantic writers and thinkers of the time who saw him as a symbol of the fight against the aristocracy. 

But the French had their own versions of Robin Hood before the English legend made its way to l’Hexagone – like the “Louis Mandrin” who supposedly rebelled against corrupt tax collectors during the Ancien Regime. 

Over the years, the French – particularly those on the political left – have evoked “Robin des bois” during strikes and protests, and it’s relatively common to see protest movements or direct action groups name themselves after Robin Hood.

The English outlaw also had his own French television series between 1963 and 1966 – though this time he was called “Thierry La Fronde” and he lived in France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Use it like this

Nous devons nous attaquer aux actions de Robin des Bois afin d’aider la classe ouvrière à payer leurs factures d’énergie, a déclaré le syndicat dans un communiqué de presse. – We must take action like Robin Hood to help the working class pay for their energy bills, the union said in a flyer. 

Le restaurateur était un véritable Robin des Bois – il avait tendance à surfacturer les tables des riches et à sous-facturer celles de la classe populaire. – The restaurant owner was a real Robin Hood – he had a tendency of overcharging tables of rich people and under-charging those of poor folks.