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La lanterne rouge: A French expression you may hear today

Over the past months, a survey has been run to determine the most  – and least  –  walkable cities in France. Marseille was awarded ‘the red lantern’

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

Marseille can be said to have been the ‘red lantern’ in a survey on the best cities for pedestrians – in other words it came last.

Over 43,000 pedestrians gave their opinions on what it is like to travel by foot in their respective cities in a survey organised by the Place aux Piétons collective.

They answered 40 questions relating to, among other topics, the ease or difficulty of getting by, relations with other users of the road and feeling of security.

In the results published yesterday, Acigné was proven to be the most walkable town in France, and Rennes took the top spot among cities with over 200,000 inhabitants.

Out of all 200 cities surveyed, Marseille was the only one to be placed in the last category, G.

You may see this referred to as la lanterne rouge. Here, we explain what this expression means and where it comes from:

To be the ‘red lantern’ means to come last in a race or competition, to be the loser.

The term is said to have been coined in the early days of railways when red lanterns would be hung from the last train on a convoy. Signalmen would look for this light to make sure that the carriages had not become disconnected along the way.

Nowadays, you may see or hear this phrase commonly used in the sporting world, and in particular cycling. It was popularised by the Tour de France which, since its first race in 1903, has used the term to refer to the competitor who finishes in last place.

Cyclists sometimes compete for the title of the lanterne rouge when they know they will not rank high on the Tour de France due to the popularity and media attention it will afford them, oftentimes more so than if they were to finish a few places ahead.

You may see photos of the ‘winner’ of the title completing a lap of honour in Paris holding a red lantern made of paper or plastic handed to him by photographers or spectators.

Over time, the phrase has come to be used in everyday language, not just in sporting, to refer to the last in any competition or list.

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