Etre sous les feux de la rampe: a French expression you may hear today

With Far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour said to be ‘under the fires of the ramp’ (again), we look at the origins of the expression

23 September 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

Far-right polemicist and potential presidential candidate Eric Zemmour has been the focus of much media attention in the past months. Most recently, this has been due to Paris Match featuring, on the front page of their magazine, photos of the married 63-year-old looking cosy with his 28-year-old advisor Sarah Knafo.
The expression ‘sous les feux de la rampe’ means ‘to receive lots of attention’, often suddenly and temporarily. 

A close English equivalent could be ‘to be in the limelight’. However, the phrase also carries a negative connotation and secondary definition of being publicly exposed, such as in Zemmour’s case.

It dates to the 17th century, when ‘rampe’ was a technical term used in theatres to define the wooden slats on which candles (the only source of lighting for the stage) would be placed.
Initially, the phrase simply meant ‘to be on stage’ but its meaning eventually expanded to refer to characters entering the stage - moving from the shadows into the light - and making themselves seen to the audience.

The expression adopted a more figurative meaning over time and is now commonly used outside of the sphere of theatre.
Another term you may come across is ‘être sur la sellette’, which translates to ‘to be in the little saddle’. It means ‘to be exposed to criticism’ and is perhaps equivalent to the English saying ‘to be in the hot seat’.

This expression dates back to the ‘Ancient Regime’ (time before the French Revolution), when a ‘sellette’ was a small wooden chair on which the accused would sit during questioning.
Many sources claim that it was positioned deliberately low so that the judges could intimidate the accused.
While the use of the ‘sellette’ ended during the revolution, the expression is still often used in modern French.
With Zemmour due to debate left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon tonight, we can expect to see him both ‘sous les feux de la rampe’ and ‘sur la sellette’ in the near future.

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