For members


French Expression of the Day: Changer de cap

Politicians do it all the time, but it's not a fashion statement.

French expression of the day: Changer de cap
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know changer de cap?

Because we have elections coming up in France. 

What does it mean?

It means to change direction – and is often used in a political context. 

It is thought to derive from the old nautical terms, tenir le cap and maintenir le cap, which mean ‘to stay on the same tack’ (carry on in the same direction). 

The cap in question here is not headgear (a baseball cap in French is usually known as a casquette). Un cap vrai is a ‘true heading’ – a navigational term used to describe the direction of travel relative to the north pole. 

Use it like this

Emmanuel Macron a assuré qu’il n’y aura pas un changement de cap de sa politique – Emmanuel Macron promised that there would not be a change of direction in his politics 

Xavier Bertrand n’a pas l’intention de changer de cap politique – Xavier Bertrand does not intend to change direction

Presque tous les présidents ont connu des désillusions et ont dû changer de cap politique – Nearly all presidents have known disillusion and have had to change their political direction

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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.