‘Être la coqueluche’: A French phrase you may hear today

Mayor of Grenoble Eric Piolle is set to appear in court accused of having a ‘whooping cough’ – but not in the literal sense. We look at what this means…

29 September 2021

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

The mayor of Grenoble is to appear in court next March, accused of favouritism with regards to the allocation of a public contract, it was announced yesterday. 

Eric Piolle, of Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (Left), will be tried at the Court of Valence over a contract relating to the city’s popular Fête des Tuiles annual celebration, which was awarded to the association Fusées in both 2015 and 2016. 

The municipality allegedly did not follow proper protocol and is suspected of awarding the contract without opening it up to proper competition.

It can therefore be said that Fusée is Eric Piolle’s ‘coqueluche.’ 

While a ‘coqueluche’ technically translates as ‘whooping cough’, ‘être la coqueluche de quelqu’un means to be somebody’s favourite. 

So how did an infectious disease come to be associated with favouritism?

Whooping cough first appeared in the 15th century and doctors would advise people to wear hats or bonnets to keep their heads warm to avoid catching it – these bonnets were named ‘coqueluches’ after the disease they aimed to prevent.

During that same period, there was another common expression: ‘être coiffé de’.

While it meant ‘to be in enamoured with’, it literally translated to ‘to have one’s head covered’ (for example with a hat).

Hence, a hat would also be associated with love and affection. 

Somehow these two expressions were blended together over time and in the 17th century, ‘être la coqueluche’ came to mean ‘to be the favourite’.

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