French phrase of the day: Diagonale du vide

French phrase of the day: Diagonale du vide
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Today’s word often comes up in discussions about France’s urban-rural divide.

Why do I need to know diagonale du vide ?

Because it can help you to understand a part of France that often gets forgotten.

What does it mean?

Diagonale du vide means “empty diagonal”, and refers to a stretch of the country running from the south-west to the north-east, where population density is generally much lower than it is elsewhere.

The phenomenon is visible in this 2018 population density map from national statistics agency Insee.

Population density at communal level.  Source: Insee.

The area takes in many rural departments such as Creuse, in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, which gives its name to a similar expression – “au fin fond de la Creuse” (in deepest Creuse) – also used to conjure up a sense of remoteness.

As well as low population density, the diagonale du vide is generally categorised by an ageing population, fewer job opportunities, and a lack of public services.

During the pandemic, many people have pointed out that Covid-19 rates are much lower in this part of France.

Although the term is widely used to refer to the extremely rural areas in central France, today many geographers find it to be overly pejorative, and so prefer the term diagonale des faibles densités (low-density diagonal).

Use it like this

Dans la diagonale du vide, tout le monde doit avoir une voiture – In the empty diagonal, everybody needs a car.

Le virus circule beaucoup moins dans la diagonale du vide – The virus is circulating much less in rural France.

Elle ne peut pas dormir s’il y a beaucoup de bruit, elle a grandi dans la diagonale du vide – She can’t sleep if there’s a lot of noise, she grew up in a very isolated area.

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