French Expression of the Day: Griller un feu rouge

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French Expression of the Day: Griller un feu rouge
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Hopefully you will not need this French expression when driving in France.


Why do I need to know griller un feu rouge?

Because this can help bring the conversation back down to reality.

What does it mean?

Griller un feu rouge - roughly pronounced gree-yay uhn fuh rooj - translates as ‘to grill (or to cook) a red light’.

In reality, it means to go through a red light when you are driving or cycling - in English you might say run a red light or jump a red light. Some people may say brûler (to burn) instead of griller

Variations of this expression have been used for decades, and in fact even before cars were invented. Since the early 18th century, to burn something in French has also had the second meaning of passing through something without stopping.

Linguists think that this might be a reference to the speed at which fire can travel once lit, or the fact that before electricity people used fire as a way to signal others.

There are other French expressions that use the term brûler (and nowadays griller) to refer to skipping something, such as brûler les étapes, which translates as ‘to burn the steps’ but really means to rush or to go too fast in the effort of achieving a goal.

However, while in English we say 'grill' to mean someone being closely questioned - often by police - the French use the more generic term cuisiner (to cook) to describe intense questioning.

Use it like this

Il a grillé un feu rouge, mais le policier l'a vu. - He ran a red light, but the police officer saw him.


Pas besoin de brûler les feux rouges, nous ne sommes pas très en retard. - No need to run any red lights, we're not running terribly late.



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