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French Word of the Day: Flasher

You'll definitely want to understand the difference between the English version and the French version for this word.

French Word of the Day: Flasher
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know flasher?

Because when you might be curious why French newspapers are writing about the number of “serial flasheurs” on the country’s roads.

What does it mean?

Flasher roughly pronounced flah-shay – looks a lot like the English word for someone who has exposed themselves in public, but its French definition is something different entirely.

In English, the word also refers to taking a picture, but the French definition takes it one step further. While the verb flasher has a French few definitions, one of the most common is “to photograph a speeding vehicle.” 

For this reason, it is not uncommon to see radar devices referred to as flasheurs, and for the sentence “d’être flashé” (to be flashed) to mean something entirely different in French than in English.

Recently, several French regions have begun experimenting with mobile radar devices – cameras attached to private vehicles which roam France’s motorways. This has been met with some negative reactions from drivers, who have denounced them as “serial flasheurs” – devices incentivised to take the maximum amount of pictures of speeding drivers as possible, sometimes (in their view) unfairly.

The word can also be used to describe putting a spotlight on something or someone, and in less formal contexts, it can also be used to describe suddenly becoming passionate about something or someone, like love at first sight. For instance, you could say that “The man fell head over heels for the new model of the iPhone” (Il flashe sur un nouveau modèle d’iPhone).

Use it like this

J’ai été flashé en conduisant il y a quelques mois, mais je n’ai reçu mon amende qu’aujourd’hui. – I was snapped speeding while driving a few months ago, but I only just got my fine today.

Tout ce qu’ils veulent faire, c’est maximiser le nombre de flashs. Je ne suis pas d’accord avec cette façon de contrôler la vitesse. – All they want to do is maximise the number of speeding infractions registered. I don’t agree with this way of enforcing speed limits.

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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.