top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
arrow down

Prendre son bâton de pèlerin: A French expression you may hear today

The leader of one of France’s main workers’ unions is said to have ‘taken his pilgrim’s cane’ with regards to shortening the working week from 35 to 32 hours. We look at what this means…

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

One of the main French workers’ unions, the CGT, has relaunched its campaign for a 32-hour working week.

The union’s secretary general Philippe Martinez made his case at a recent press conference where he argued that changing the legislation from 35 to 32 hours would create over two million jobs.

This awareness campaign was originally launched in 2016 but the idea has been gaining popularity and supporters, including with France Insoumise (Left) leader and 2022 presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

It has been reported that Mr Martinez ‘prend son bâton de pèlerin’.

We look at this and the origins of another French expression which uses the word ‘bâton’:

Prendre son bâton de pèlerin’ (literally ‘to take your pilgrim’s cane’):

This means to continue with a mission or take on a difficult task.

It is theorised that the word ‘bâton’ derived from the Low Latin ‘burdo’, meaning ‘mule’. Pilgrims often travelled on mules or donkeys so it is possible that the name of the animal that transported them carried over to the object that supported them while walking and allowed them to continue the journey.

Another theory is that ‘bâton’ comes from the word ‘bastun’, which was used around the 12th century to designate a long piece of wood used to hit or move something, according to the dictionary Trésor de la langue française.

This would explain why the cane is used to symbolise a mission or campaign - it is something the bearer of the cane is ready to fight for.

Discuter à bâtons rompus’ (literally ‘to discuss with broken sticks’):

This expression implies a disorganised, incoherent conversation that changes topic often and is generally believed to have originated in the military music of the Middle Ages.

It is said that, while playing a marching rhythm on the drums, the player would make two consecutive strokes with each drumstick, producing different sounds which did not complement each other.

This expression eventually began to be used with regards to conversation, in particular one that switches between topics that have seemingly nothing to do with each other.

Related articles

‘La grève’: The origins of a word often associated with France

Coup de pouce: A French expression you may hear today

C'est coton: A French expression your may hear today

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Healthcare in France*
Featured Help Guide
- Understand the French healthcare system, how you access it and how you are reimbursed - Useful if you are new to the French healthcare system or want a more in-depth understanding - Reader question and answer section Aimed at non-French nationals living here, the guide gives an overview of what you are (and are not) covered for. There is also information for second-home owners and regular visitors.
Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now