Faire feu de tout bois: A French expression you may hear today

Health Minister Olivier Véran set out to ‘faire feu de tout bois’ against French anti-vaxers in a press conference yesterday. What does the expression mean?

27 August 2021

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

Translated literally, faire feu de tout bois means to make fire from all wood.

 What does this have to do with people who do not want to be vaccinated?

 Yesterday (August 26) Health Minister Olivier Véran spoke out against false vaccine ‘news’ and the potentially serious consequences of refusing to get vaccinated against Covid.

 He described the fourth wave of the virus in France as “an epidemic that has killed the unvaccinated above all”. 

He said hospitals were “filled with unvaccinated people” and that low vaccine rates in French overseas territories “will cause deaths upon deaths”.

The health minister then challenged anti-vax beliefs about the vaccine. “No, RNA messenger vaccines do not change human genomes. No, the vaccine does not impact female fertility,” he said.

In short, Mr Véran aimed to faire feu de tout bois – to pull out all the stops – to spread the message that getting vaccinated is an essential way to counter the health crisis.

The expression faire feu de tout bois is first known to have been used in the 17th century, although it may date back further.

 It is adapted from the expression faire flèche de tout bois, meaning to make arrows from all wood. 

 This refers to olden-day hunters who historically used bows and arrows to catch their prey. If they ran out of arrows while hunting they would have to pick up whatever wood they could find and make new ones, even if the wood was bad quality, in order to catch something for their next meal.

 Over time, the phrase was adapted to apply to firewood as well. After all, burning any kind of wood could help people stay warm in winter.

 Now to faire feu de tout bois – to use all wood – means to pull out all the stops, or to use all means at your disposal.

In the health minister’s case, the best tools at his disposal in yesterday’s press conference were strong statements. “Fear of the virus, yes; fear of the vaccine, no,” he said.

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