French Word of the Day: Le tube

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

This French word has nothing to do with London's transport system.


Why do I need to know le tube?

Because it has a second, informal meaning that you’ll want to know.

What does it mean?

Le tube - roughly pronounced luh toob - can be used in the same way ‘tube’ is used in English - as in a hollow cylinder used to move liquids or gases. 

In French, you might hear this used by plumbers when discussing the pipes. However, when getting specific are more likely to use the word tuyau, which means 'pipe'.

But the term has another colloquial meaning in French too. It refers to a popular song, or a ‘hit’ as one might say in English. 


The French use of tube when discussing music originally began with the phonograph, an early device that used a rotating cylinder to record and play sounds.

By the 1950s, people in the music industry began to use ‘tube’ to pejoratively refer to certain types of hit songs. There were songs whose lyrics were “hollow as a tube”, but popular nonetheless. 

Over time, the term went on to become less disparaging, and more so just meant to describe well-liked songs. These days, people in the music industry seek out certain tubes for different seasons - the tube de l’été or the tube de Noël.

There does not appear to have been any connection with the English usage of ‘tube’ for television, which also started in the mid-20th century. 

Use it like this

Tu te souviens de cette chanson ? C'était le tube de l'été. - Do you remember that song? It was the hit of the summer.

Tout le monde a adoré voir Ryan Gosling chanter le tube "I'm just Ken" dans Barbie. - Everyone loved watching Ryan Gosling sing the hit song 'I'm just Ken' in Barbie.


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