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French Expression of the Day: Sire de soi

This French expression might teach you something about Norman culture and history.

French Expression of the Day: Sire de soi
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know sire de soi?

Because you might hear this when visiting Normandy

What does it mean?

Sire de soi – roughly pronounced seer duh swah – is originally derived from the Norman dialect, and it is still used in Normandy, among other parts of France.

The expression may look very similar to the phrase “sûr de soi” which means to be confident in oneself, but sire de soi does not just have to do with being self-assured.

Instead, it deals with the idea of being master of one’s own home and being, having complete autonomy, freedom, and the right of self-determination.

The expression has been in use, in some form, since at least the 11th century in France, and it uses the French word sire is an honorific title for a sovereign (or Lord), but it can also be a synonym for “Mister” (Monsieur).

In the Middle Ages, the expression sire de was often used to designate the feudal lord who ruled over a specific territory, and in the Norman dialect it was written as “sire de sei” which eventually transformed into sire de soi.

The ability to be master over oneself became a large part of Norman identity, symbolising their independent spirit. The phrase is inscribed under the statue of Rollo, first Duke of Normandy, in Rouen, according to Le Figaro

Use it like this

Après avoir acheté sa première maison, Sarah a senti qu’elle était enfin sire de soi. C’était un soulagement de ne plus avoir à payer un loyer à son propriétaire tous les mois. – After she bought her first house, Sarah felt she was finally independent. It was a relief to no longer have to pay her landlord a monthly rent. 

Je pense que tout le monde aspire à être sire de soi, à être vraiment indépendant et à ne rien devoir à personne. – I think that everyone aspires to be fully autonomous, to be truly independent and not to owe anyone anything.

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For members


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.