French Expression of the Day: Brûler les étapes

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French Expression of the Day: Brûler les étapes
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

In French 'burning the steps' is usually not something that you want to do.


Why do I need to know brûler les étapes?

Because you might be tempted to do this, but you might end up regretting it.

What does it mean?

Brûler les étapes - roughly pronounced broo-lay laze ay-tap - translates ‘to burn the steps.’

But it really means to rush or to go too fast in the effort of achieving a goal. In English, one might say ‘to cut corners’.

French people began using this expression in the 20th century, but it harkens back to an earlier expression from the 17th century: Brûler l’étape, or faire cuire l’étape.  


This military idiom meant ‘to not halt at a stopping point’, or to continue pressing onward, using the imagery of a fire that moves quickly and does not pause.

Over time, the expression turned into brûler les étapes, which has a bit of a negative connotation. 

The phrase is common in sport. You will often see athletes or athletic magazines discussing how players do not want to brûler les étapes. Usually, this refers to taking time to learn all of the steps or to recover fully, in order to avoid rushing things and becoming injured.

A French synonym might be aller trop vite.

Use it like this

Il pense qu'il peut apprendre tout seul les cours et les sauter, mais tout ce qu'il fait, c'est brûler les étapes. Il ne s'en sortira pas bien. - He thinks that he can teach himself the coursework and skip the classes, but all he is doing is cutting corners. It won't turn out well.

En tant qu'athlète, je veux jouer à un haut niveau et je sais qu'il est important de ne pas brûler les étapes. Il faudra du temps pour atteindre mes objectifs. - As an athlete, I want to play at a high level, and I know it is important not to rush things. It will take time to achieve what I want.


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