Word-for-word, prendre ses jambes à son cou means to take the legs at one’s neck.
What does this have to do with urgent evacuations happening in Afghanistan?
Yesterday (August 16) President Emmanuel Macron said that the Taliban’s seizure of control in Afghanistan meant that French nationals and allies needed to leave the country.
His speech came amid a chaotic 48 hours at Kabul airport as many foreign nationals and Afghan citizens tried to flee overseas.
Two military planes and the French special forces were expected to arrive in Kabul to continue evacuation efforts last night.
The level of security threat means the evacuations are urgent; those concerned need to prendre ses jambes à son cou
This expression first emerged in 1618 as prendre ses jambes sur son col – to take the legs on one’s neck – meaning to decide to go on holiday.
This meaning came from the idea that you would need to pack extra belongings to take with you if you went on holiday, which at the time would be carried in a cross-body bag with the weight resting on the side of the neck.
The modern usage has a more pressing meaning. If someone has to prendre les jambes à son col they must flee, make a hasty escape or even take to their heels and run away.
It is thought that the expression evolved along with a mental image similar to professional runners leaping from the starting blocks at such speed that their bodies are bent almost double with alternating knees in line with their necks.