How to say lop-sided in French: de guingois


That's my daughter, freshly-picked flowers hidden behind her back, trailing behind on a school field trip back in 2005. The goal of the "sortie" was to learn how to use a compass. Looks like our girl will need that information these days, in order to navigate the range of information, sometimes conflicting... that she receives from her trusty parents. Read on, in today's story column.

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Today's Word: EPARGNER

(If this word looks familiar, that's because we featured it last June... New are the verb's conjugations and idioms section... as well as the story!)

épargner (ay-par-nyay) verb

    : to save (up) ; to spare, to be sparing with

[from Frankish "sparanjan", from Germanic "sparōn" (spare, frugal)]

Terms & Expressions: (Don't miss the French idioms section that follows the
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~~~~~~~~~~Audio File and Verb Conjugation~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Listen to Jean-Marc conjugate today's French verb: Download Epargner2 . Download Epargner2
J'épargne, tu épargnes, il/elle épargne, nous épargnons, vous épargnez, ils/elles épargnent => past participle: épargné

When my Francophone daughter asked for help with her French homework, I put aside self-doubt and told myself to give it a try. Usually, it is my husband who helps with le français* (and I, with l'anglais*...), but this time Jean-Marc was occupied with a telephone call. After offering a quick (and distracted...) answer to her question, he sent our daughter on her way.

That's how Jackie ended up in my home office.
"Maman," my eleven-year-old asked, "what does "épargner" mean?"

After an initial hesitation (épargner can mean anything from "to save" to "to spare"), it occurred to me to ask about context.

"Can you give me an example sentence?"
My daughter looked at her workbook and read the assigned question.
"Pourquoi est-ce que Dieu a décidé d'épargner Noé?"

(Whoa!) Once again, I put aside meekness and went to work, translating first the sentence "Why did God decide to spare Noah?" (I'd worry about the answer later). Next, I wondered how best to explain the verb "to spare," an English verb that my kids have probably never heard before. After all, I've never asked them, "Baby, can you spare a dime?" Likewise, they've never heard me ask about a "spare tire", and I don't ever talk about "spare time," for, even here in the countryside (and no matter what outsiders imagine about "the slow and sweet life in France") "spare time" is a luxury that only a Frisbee-chewing French dog can afford. Finally, as I don't like to be sarcastic in speech (i.e.: "Oh, spare me!"), you might say my children have been spared of the verb "épargner".

And so it was now up to me to define a new word, both in English--and in French--for my daughter.

"To spare..." I began, thoughtfully. "You know, to spare... TO... SPARE..." At a loss for a translation, I remembered that Jackie had received some sort of answer from her dad, who had been busy on the phone when he offered it.

"Well, what did your dad say?"
"He said 'épargner' means 'to put money aside'."

Oh, I chuckled, inserting Jean-Marc's distracted answer into the equation: "Why did God 'put money aside' for Noah?"

I imagined God, up there in splendid Heaven, beyond those pricey golden gates, nervously tucking aside his money--savings for a rainy day; speak of rain! What with the predicament that he put Noah in, what good was it to lend the sea-swept survivor cash? What good was currency, to Noah, when the earth, and all that money could buy, was being submerged? Just WHO was Noah going to pay now? The giraffes?

"Pourquoi tu rigoles? Why are you giggling?" my daughter wanted to know, still waiting patiently for the correct definition of épargner.

"Jackie," I said, more to myself that to my daughter, "God doesn't need to put money aside for anybody!" I was going to add (in the spirit that "God is everything" i.e.: grass, the water, a rainbow, forgiveness, hope...): "He IS money!" but that seemed sacrilegious.

All that said, I still couldn't answer my daughter's question and so we set about reading the chapter on Noah's Ark. I admit, it seemed strange to be reading a section of the Bible from a French school textbook--since my daughter attends a public, or laïque* school... and especially since her previous school (also laïque) had sent her home with a swift warning after she wore a cross necklace to class. If ever she returned to school, the principal had warned, wearing that crucifix, the necklace would be confiscated! (See "French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools."*) After my initial shock and confusion, I could begin to understand the unfairness of one child being able to wear a crucifix while another might be prohibited from wearing a religious headscarf.

But back, now, to the biblical flood... I was happy to re-read the story of Noah's Ark in my daughter's (secular?) school book. And, I must say, the text certainly confirmed my beliefs: nowhere in Genesis does God say "Baby, can you spare a dime?"

le français
(m) = French (language); l'anglais (m) = English (language); laïque = secular (non-religious) state school, secular (education); French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools

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French Idioms:
  épargner ses forces = to save one's energy
  épargner sur la nourriture = to save on one's food spending
  épargner pour ses vieux jours = to save up for one's old age
  je vous épargne les détails = I'll spare you the details
  épargner quelque chose à quelqu'un = to spare someone something

Do you know of any épargner expressions or examples that you might like to share with fellow readers? Do you have a story about "saving" or "sparing" that you'd like to tell us? Thanks for adding your savoir-faire to the comments section, for all to see.

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Julie Schorr

Hi Kristin,
I regards to money, I was once corrected in France when I said "J'ai épargné de l'argent" and was told I should say "j"ai économisé de l'argent. Any thoughts about this?


"To spare." What a perfect verb for the Christmas season. God "spared" Noah, indeed. And then He "spared" no expense for us, for as our Chistmas gift, He sent us his only begotten Son, Whom He ultimately did not "spare," so that we might be "spared" the punishment for our sins!

Joyeux Noel!


Well said Diane! Merry Christmas!

Kerry Ann

A thought on Julie's point-I have always thought of economiser as to be thrifty - the kind of savings like with the household budget or buying less of something or at a discount, but for putting money away I think of eparganer.... there is a French savings bank called Caisse d'Epargne. It is a subtle difference, but only from the context can you tell as Kristin clearly points out!


Bonjour Kristin, while at PastaWorks in Portland,I bought a couple of bottles of Rouge-Bleu to take to the mountains after Christmas.
About the Bible story in a laïque school, I can tell you that when I was in my own laïque schools in Belgium, ages ago, the stories of the Bible were not considered "religious" studies but rather part of the "culture générale", along with the characters and stories Greek and Roman myths and plays which pervade the writings and especially the poetry of previous centuries. As such they were considered relevant in French class. Does that make sense to you?


Thanks for mentioning that a cross shouldn't be worn to school. I take students to France on an exchange and it's one more thing to be aware of. I hadn't ever thought of it. We don't want to offend anyone.

Christie in San Diego


(Second posting because I realized I made the post on the de guinois page so I wasn't sure if you would see it.) Thank you so much for your posts. I have your site tied to google so as soon as I click on my Internet Explorer icon, up pops a new word. I'm giving my children (ages 4 & 2) the gift of French as best I can for a gal who has had only highschool and college French so your site has definately come in handy. I was reading Fred's post above and it gave me the idea to ask for or advertise for bringing a little more French to San Diego. It is always great to have someone come stay with us for a while to share culture and speak French. This is something we normally reserve for the summer months for the EF program, but would you keep me in mind if you know of anyone or run into anyone (of high character of course) who would like to live with us for a few months, free room and board, in exchange for sharing of languages? If you can see my private e-mail, please e-mail me when you get a chance so I can give you my phone number.

Thanks, Christie

PS. I second the request in your Mother's post! :)

PPS. I just saw that you had a contact e-mail above. I will send you my contact info that way.


As an example for your daughter, you might consider the poem, "Woodsman, Spare that Tree".


I don't have a story, but a related word is caisse d'epargne, which I believe means a cash register.

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