For members


French Expression of the Day: C’est coton

When something is 100 percent cotton, this doesn't necessarily mean it is a quality piece of clothing.

French Expression of the Day: C'est coton
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know c’est coton? 

Because not everything comes easy. 

What does it mean?

C’est coton, pronounced “say cot-on”, literally means “it is cotton” and you will frequently find the word coton in clothing labels.

The figurative sense of this expression is more along the lines of “it is difficult/challenging”. 

The term dates back to the late 19th century when weaving and spinning mills were a major industry in France. 

People working with raw cotton in the mills had to stay highly focused for hours on end to produce a high quality product. The dust created during the cotton processing often caused respiratory illness. It was not uncommon for factory staff to lose fingers in the machinery.

The work was tough and poorly paid – and became synonymous with struggle.

What began as slang for the proletariat of the industrial revolution has lived on through to today. 

Use it like this 

Trouver un emploi, ça c’était coton – Finding a job was difficult

C’est tout à fait possible, mais c’est coton – It is entirely possible, but challenging

Rester alerte, ça c’est coton – Staying alert is difficult

Effectuer des tâches administratives en France, c’est coton – Doing admin tasks in France is tough


C’est le bagne – it’s difficult

C’est un véritable calvaire – it’s a struggle

C’est difficile/dur/compliqué – it’s difficult/tough/complicated. C’est compliqué is the preferred phrase for someone who is about the reject your request

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

A brand new coinage in the French language that reflects the changing times.

French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

Why do I need to know la Première ministre?

Because France has one now.

What does it mean?

La Première ministre – usually pronounced lah prem-ee-air mean-east-ruh– translates as “the prime minister,” but this spelling is different from what you might be used to seeing.

This title is feminised, indicating that the prime minister in question is a woman. Under former PMs such as Jean Castex, the masculine title Le Premier ministre was used.

Élisabeth Borne made headlines on May 16th not only because she was appointed as France’s second female prime minister, but also because she will be the first to use the feminisation of the work title: Madame la Première ministre. The female prime minister who held the position before her, Edith Cresson, used the masculine version of the title.

Feminising work titles has been controversial in France, and most titles like “le Premier ministre” have been automatically put in masculine form.

But in 2019, France’s infamous Academie Francaise, which polices the French language and typically resists any sweeping changes to it, changed their stance and said there was “no obstacle in principle” to the wholesale feminisation of job titles. 

Use it like this

Le Président Emmanuel Macron a fait une annonce importante. Élisabeth Borne est la Première ministre. – President Emmanuel Macron made an important announcement: Élisabeth Borne is the prime minister.

“Madame la Première ministre, qui avez-vous choisi pour diriger votre nouveau gouvernement ?” a demandé le journaliste. – “Madame Prime Minister, who have you chosen to lead your new government?” asked the journalist.