Tomette tiles and old French keys at an antiques store in the town of Piolenc.

clef or clé*
(klay) noun, feminine
    : key

(from the Latin, "clavis")

*the two spellings are correct

Can you guess what the following terms & expressions mean and do you know of others to add to this list? Answer here, in the comments box.

mettre la clef sous la porte
clefs en main
clé à bougie
la clef des champs
livre à clef*
clef de fa
une clé de sol

mis sous clé
clé RIB
clef USB


* livre à clef (also: roman à clef or roman à clé)

Audio File:  listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and hear the words in the list above: Download clef.wav . Download clef.mp3

Motoring home from the brocante,* tires now crunching over our dirt driveway, I turned to my mom, who was jammed into the passenger seat. It was difficult to see her, as the "antique" that we had just brought home took up the space between us.

"I think we need a Plan B!" said me.

I was hoping Jean-Marc would be out in the vine fields, scanning for remaining grapes, post harvest. Instead, he was fixing the tractor, right there at the front gate! How, now, to tiptoe past my husband with this not-so-petit purchase?: one which amounted to no more than a few old planks of rotting wood studded with a hundred crooked clous.* Surely the Frenchman would think me mad for dragging home a board of rusty nails... even madder for having paid for it!

It was those fallen French keys that were cramping my style. Up until the last hour, that old "board" had been a unique exposition. On display (and currently off...) were over a hundred fat-toothed keys that made the wooden structure a veritable "objet d'art".

...that is, until I turned the board on its side, wrestled it into my car, and proceeded to jingle and jangle all the way home, losing, with each bend and bump in the country road, another coppery clef*. Like that, a pile of rusty keys began to collect on the floorboard below.

Keyboard The first few keys fell off in Piolenc, then another couple outside the town of Orange. In Sérignan, I swerved and, like that, two more slipped off as I avoided a curb... More keys collided and fell, there on the outskirts of Sainte Cécile... and a final bunch bounced off as we pulled into our lot.

What remained was that old "board"... and several shadows where the keys' images were burned into the wood, thanks to the sun. As I pulled the board out of the car, my hands were quickly plastered by cobwebs. I hadn't seen those... It was time now to face my practical-minded husband, time to come up with an explanation for this pathetic-looking, plastered "plank" -- and there would not be time to collect all of the fallen keys from the floorboard: Jean-Marc was approaching the car, like one of those husbands who can sniff a spousal "spenditure" from two farm fields away.

Quick, like any clever countrywoman, where tall tales are as common as wedding bells, I came up with a solution: "speed on by with a cry"...

I picked up that "plank" and peeled past my husband... pedaling my feet as fast as my mouth which pronounced: "No worries about what to get me for our quatorzième* anniversary------------------"

PS: As for what Jean-Marc's getting ... I'm working on it. Here's a hint: I'm turning one of those "tall tales" into a short story... about an old door, some rusty keys, and the secret to life-long liberty.

PSS: for the record, Jean-Marc very much likes the "keyboard".

Freedom keys
une brocante (f) = flea market
un clou (m) = nail
une clef (f) = key
quatorzième = fourteenth

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