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French word of the day: Bled

This is one of many French words with Arabic origins.

French word of the day: Bled
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know bled?

It’s useful when describing a particular type of place, but be careful because it can have negative connotations.

What does it mean?

The word bled comes from Arabic, and is used in North Africa to mean “town” or “country”.

Since arriving in the French language, it has developed two different meanings.

First of all, it’s often used to refer to a person’s village or country of origin. You’ll mostly hear this from first or second generation immigrants in France, when they are talking about the area they or their family came from.

Just as many Americans will be used to hearing stories about the “old country”, the word bled conveys a sense of dual belonging.

Many French people of North African descent return to the bled to visit family during the summer. Of course, this has became more difficult during the pandemic because of travel restrictions, hence the recent headline from Le Parisien: “les Algériens de France ne passeront pas l’été au ‘bled’” (France’s Algerians won’t spend the summer in their country of origin).

The second meaning is more pejorative, and refers to a village or small town which is isolated and deemed to be of little interest. (For a certain type of person, this could be any place that isn’t Paris.)

To really add emphasis to how small and out-of-the-way the town or village is, you can add paumé (lost) to bled

Use it like this

Cet été je vais retourner au bled pour voir mes grands-parents – This summer I’m going to the old country to see my grandparents.

Il n’y a même pas de restaurant dans ce bled – There’s not even a restaurant in this backwater.

Il vient d’un petit bled paumé dans l’ouest de la France – He comes from a one-horse town in the west of France.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.