Boussole (f) = compass (c) Kristin Espinasse Looking due south, toward the Mediterranean Sea

la boussole (boo-sol) noun, feminine
  1. compass

Listen: Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word "boussole": Download boussole.wav


perdre la boussole = to lose one's head; to go haywire

Citation du Jour:
Vivre sans but, c'est naviguer sans boussole. Living without an aim is like sailing without a compass. --John Ruskin

A Day in a French Life...
Yesterday I joined two other mamans accompagnatrices* to hike alongside 24 petits randonneurs* during the first school sortie* of the semester.

Before marching single file to the forest behind our village, Jackie's class received photocopied maps. The eight-year-olds took care to protect the handouts, slipping them into binder-ready, see-through document covers--a habit they practice with most of their school papers.

Next, le maître* distributed les boussoles.*
"Ça ne marche pas!" one of the children complained, shaking his compass.
"No, compasses don't WALK," the teacher shot back, "they FUNCTION!"
Well, if le maître is caring about language, showing little patience for argot (in this case the French verb "marcher," "to walk," also slang for "to work" i.e.: "Ça ne marche pas--It doesn't work"), he is also passionate about nature, and so we collected our boussoles, sketchbooks and sacs à dos* and headed due ouest.*

Twenty minutes later, we stepped off the paved road and onto the uneven sentier.* The forest floor beneath our feet was as fragrant as a Mediterranean spice shop, with thyme, flowering rosemary, menthe sauvage* and intensely fragrant wild lavender around every French bend.

We admired the thick trunk of an old olive tree and the heavy stone restanques* which terraced the land--evidence that the area was cultivated at one point in time. As we hunted the forest floor for more visual delights our eyes came to an abrupt halt.

Les cartouches*...

The blue and red cartridges, left behind by les chasseurs,* were scattered throughout the forest alongside the pinecones, rosemary and lavender. With the teacher's suggestion, the children collected a hefty sackful of the empty cartridges to deliver to Monsieur le Maire.... as a souvenir from our field trip.

There is an expression in French, "perdre la boussole," which means to "lose one's compass" and, figuratively, "to lose one's mind." Seeing all those toxic cartridges littering the forest you couldn't help but wonder if the chasseurs had lost theirs.

*References: la maman accompagnatrice (f) = mother chaperone; le randonneur (la randonneuse) = hiker; la sortie (f) = field trip; le maître (la maîtress) = teacher; la boussole (f) = compass; le sac à dos (m) = backpack; l'ouest (m) = west; le sentier (m) = path; la menthe sauvage (f) = wild mint; la restanque (f) = terrace held by a stone wall; la cartouche (f) = cartridge (gun); le chasseur (la chasseuse) = hunter

Books on the French language:
Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions lists approximately 4,500 common slang words and colloquial expressions. Entries include grammatical information, the definition in English, a sentence or phrase to illustrate usage, and an English translation of the example and, where applicable, a corresponding English slang expression. Each entry also identifies the word or phrase by type: student or youth slang, political slang, literary slang, and criminal and drug-related slang.

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