French expression of the Day: De gaieté de coeur

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
French expression of the Day: De gaieté de coeur
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

These days, you're more likely to hear this in its negative version.


Why do I need to know de gaieté de coeur?

Because it's a rather poetic phrase that retains a modern usage.

What does it mean?

De gaieté de coeur literally translates as "of happiness of the heart"  and means either someone who is in good spirits or good humour, or an act that is done lightly or with good grace.

It's quite old-fashioned and you will see it popping up a lot in classic French literature.

These days, you're more likely to hear it in a negative form "ce n'est pas de gaieté de cœur". This means that something is not done light-heartedly, but only after serious reflection.

In English you might say "we're not doing this for fun", or, "I'm not doing this for the good of my health".

It's commonly used during strikes, workers and unions will say ce n'est pas de gaieté de cœur to indicate that they're not just striking for fun - and in fact they take a serious financial hit from a strike - but believe that their actions are necessary.

Use it like this

Ce n'est pas de gaieté de cœur que l'on appelle à la grève - We're not calling a strike just for fun 

Il n'y a pas un gouvernement qui mène une réforme des retraites de gaieté de coeur. Nous savons que c'est difficile - No government carried out a pension reform light-heartedly. We know this is difficult

Enfin, je ne puis, de gaieté de cœur, passer au chapitre suivant sans orienter mon sabre - Finally, I can't in good spirits go on to the next chapter without aiming my sword (from the French writer Charles Des Ecores - 1852-1905)




Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also