For members


French phrase of the day: Diagonale du vide

Today’s word often comes up in discussions about France’s urban-rural divide.

French phrase of the day: Diagonale du vide
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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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For members


French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

A brand new coinage in the French language that reflects the changing times.

French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

Why do I need to know la Première ministre?

Because France has one now.

What does it mean?

La Première ministre – usually pronounced lah prem-ee-air mean-east-ruh– translates as “the prime minister,” but this spelling is different from what you might be used to seeing.

This title is feminised, indicating that the prime minister in question is a woman. Under former PMs such as Jean Castex, the masculine title Le Premier ministre was used.

Élisabeth Borne made headlines on May 16th not only because she was appointed as France’s second female prime minister, but also because she will be the first to use the feminisation of the work title: Madame la Première ministre. The female prime minister who held the position before her, Edith Cresson, used the masculine version of the title.

Feminising work titles has been controversial in France, and most titles like “le Premier ministre” have been automatically put in masculine form.

But in 2019, France’s infamous Academie Francaise, which polices the French language and typically resists any sweeping changes to it, changed their stance and said there was “no obstacle in principle” to the wholesale feminisation of job titles. 

Use it like this

Le Président Emmanuel Macron a fait une annonce importante. Élisabeth Borne est la Première ministre. – President Emmanuel Macron made an important announcement: Élisabeth Borne is the prime minister.

“Madame la Première ministre, qui avez-vous choisi pour diriger votre nouveau gouvernement ?” a demandé le journaliste. – “Madame Prime Minister, who have you chosen to lead your new government?” asked the journalist.