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‘D’arrache-pied’: Our French expression of the week

We look at a phrase used by the French government amid the disruption caused by strikes at French refineries

We look at an expression used by the French government last week with regards to working very hard Pic: George Rudy / Shutterstock

After a week marked by fuel shortages caused by strikes at five TotalEnergies refineries, this week sees industrial action continue at two of these sites. 

The strike has been renewed until October 27 at the Gonfreville refinery in Normandy –  “unless the management contacts us beforehand” – and workers at the Feyzin refinery near Lyon did not return to work yesterday (October 24) either.

Read also: New strike on Thursday October 27 in France: Why and what sectors?

Fuel supplies have improved across the country with the end of the strikes at other refineries, but the government is encouraging TotalEnergies to step up efforts to resolve the situation at all of its sites. 

It is from this that we draw our French expression of the week: ‘travailler d’arrache-pied’, which might translate literally to something like ‘to tear your feet from the ground working’. 

Arracher means to ‘tear off’, ‘wrest from’ or ‘snatch away’. 

It conjures up the image of cartoon characters whose feet become a blur as they rush from place to place. 

The phrase can be used to describe someone who is working very hard, assiduously or tirelessly. 

Travailler d’arrache-pied’ first appeared around 1515, but with a different meaning. Then it signified ‘to do something straight away’, with the idea of them having to tear their feet from the ground to get moving.

The expression later evolved around the eighteenth century to mean ‘without interruption’ or ‘tirelessly’.

Late last week, French government spokesperson Olivier Véran asked the TotalEnergies management to ‘travailler d’arrache-pied’ to find a way out of the negotiation stalemate with the CGT union. 

Company bosses, however, had said that “an agreement has been signed [at other refineries and with other unions] and there is no question of reopening negotiations”. 

CGT coordinator Eric Sellini also said that “employees have definitely decided to keep the movement going” in a push for a 10% pay rise and not the 5% increase plus bonus that TotalEnergies has offered. 

Another expression involving the word arracher is ‘arracher la gueule’ (literally: to tear off one’s mouth), which would translate to ‘to blow one’s head off’ or ‘to be too spicy’. 

Related articles 

Préavis, piquet: Test out your French strike vocabulary

Changer un cheval borgne pour un aveugle: French phrase of the week

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