Autumn in the Rhone
Autumn Amblings... and the sound, in the distance, of leaves crunching underfoot


sagesse (saah zhess) noun, feminine

    wisdom, (good) sense; discretion

Idioms & Expressions

faire preuve de sagesse = to be sensible
la sagesse populaire = popular (or traditional) wisdom
agir avec sagesse = to act wisely
la dent de sagesse = wisdom tooth 

Do you know any other "sagesse" expressions? Thank you for sharing them with us here, in the comments box


A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

(Note: this story was written 2 years ago... )

I am sitting at the edge of the bed, looking out the window at November. Once the pomp and parade of fall colors fade, what is left are the ashes of autumn. The earth turns in on itself and so do those who trod upon it. In the darkness, questions come to light, nagging issues such as, What is important in this life?

I look over to my teenage son, who is busy with the task of grooming. He's got my tattered trousse de toilette beside him, having fished out the clippers from inside.

"Max," I question, "If you were given the chance to share an important pensée with the entire world, what would that message be?"

Next, I brace myself for that flicker of genius to appear... the kind that graces children—and chance be ours when we're focused enough to hear!

I wait patiently for "the message" to be mysteriously channeled through my 13-year-old son with the overgrown toenails. I'm one to believe in the pureness of pint-sized knowledge and hope to be tuned in when Sagesse speaks, "out of the mouth of babes".

Leaning forward, I put my ear close to the chapped lips of the would-be child savant, and this is what I hear:

"Je ne sais pas, Maman."

With that, the messenger resumes his toenail clipping. That'll do, I decide, letting the answer linger a bit.

Doubt creeps in and I double check with the mini messiah. "'I don't know.' Is that it? Is that what you have to share with the world?"

"Mmmhmmm," Max replies, and I watch a few more nail clippings rocket through the air. Some messages come with fireworks, I decide, never mind these aren't sizzling.

Well, I can work with that. And so I do. I think about Max's "I don't know" answer to a meaningful life. The "I don't know" concept is, after all, brillant! For, with knowledge comes power and how many of us make the mistake of tacking pride on to that? Pride then squashes humility and things tend to go downhill (Pride goeth before the fall...) from there.

And knowledge, or too much of it, sometimes leads to fear. I listen to friends talk about the effect that all those info-packed newspaper headlines had on the economy. Panic sent people zipping up their pocket books. Companies shut down. People lost jobs.

I don't mean to give the big K, "Knowledge," a bad name... no, I'd never argue with my faith-filled mom when she tells me to fill up on The Word! Only, I sometimes wonder about how much I should strive to know when a lot of what I take in only serves to distract. Bits and pieces of this and that and, before I know it, I've gotten off track! There I am, left spinning in the superflu. My dad once said, "You think too much!" and, you know, I now think he's right: so busy are we sifting through a magnitude of facts, that the basic ideas get hidden beneath all those "informative" stacks.

Most times I'm guilty of assumption: when I think I know something and, in fact, I've got it all wrong. Such "insights" paint my perceptions and, busy with a wealth of tidbits, I'm circling through a Never Never Land of ideas again.

I once had a Mensa-ish friend, one of those brilliant types, but what amazed me was her humility. I'll never forget her response when asked about her know-it-ness. She abruptly raised both hands... and began hitting her head! "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!" she shouted, in all sincerity (none of that false
modesty). Her startling, head tapping show, wonderfully illustrates the concept of "I Don't Know!"

Knowledge isn't all bad, especially when it connects us to another:
Having known pain, one sympathizes with the sufferer,
having known poverty, one understands need,
having known injustice, one argues for the accused,
having known loss, one's heart goes out to the grief-stricken,
having known fear, one comforts the frightened.

                            *    *     *
I'm beginning to think that what is important in life is not how much we know, but what little we can focus on. In my case, the teenage toenail clipper sitting beside me. While I'll never understand the physics behind those "flying toenails," how they self-launch following each clip of the cutters, I can know the fondness I feel for a boy whose "message," in the end, is ever so coy.

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are always welcome, here, in the comments box.


French Vocabulary

 la trousse de toilette = make-up (shaving) bag

une pensée = thought

la Sagesse = Wisdom

Je ne sais pas, Maman = I don't know, Mom

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Dashing Smokey... looking quite wise, too!

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Knowing you don't know IS sagesse.

Tim Averill

I think that a midwife is called "la sage femme."

Maureen Walsh

How 'bout "Les mots de sagesse"? ( Words of wisdom)

Helen in PEI, Canada

Not quite "sagesse", but an expression that gave me a great mental picture as a child: "sage comme une image".

Bill in St. Paul

...sorry, I got distracted by the flying toenails...I agree with Lou: knowing you don't know or knowing what you don't know is sagesse.

Smokey's looking great! Way to go, Kristin.

Jens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Maybe not what you were thinking about, but today's French Word made me think of the beautiful song by the (Canadian) McGarrigle sisters "Entre Lajeunesse et la Sagesse":

Tom from Detroit

I once heard the following bit of 'sagesse.' I don't know if I agree with it 100%. What I do know is that "the fear of the Lord is [only] the beginning of wisdom."

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not; he is a fool. Shun him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not: he is simple. Teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows; he is asleep. Wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows, he is wise. Follow him.


I am trying to learn french and it is a disappointment when the sound files are not available. In the last two publications it hasn't been available. I tell every student/learner/educator of french I meet what a great websit you have, to hear and learn a new French-Word-A-Day.
I hope it is added back.
Thank you

Linda R.

Sometimes you just hit the nail on the head, Kristin - good words. It is also a wise thing to listen to la sagesse of your mum - she has a good sense of what is important.


This is such a great post. When I was told I had Cancer, my husband was looking up things on the internet and showing me. I was afraid. Sometime I fell it is better NOT TO KNOW
just deal with it day, by day the best you can.


Avec l'empathie vient la compréhension.
Avec la compréhension que vient la connaissance
Avec la connaissance vient la sagesse

With empathy comes understanding.
With understanding comes knowledge
With knowledge comes wisdom

John Furr

in Haiti they use "la sagesse de sage", wisdom of the wise man

Leslie in Massachusetts

In Helen's example, sage means well-behaved. Sage comme une image describes a perfectly behaved child. I have always thought it curious that sage means both wise and well-behaved (the latter for children, mainly). Maybe it's because a wise child knows how to conform to adults' idea of good behavior, thereby earning the esteem of the adults in their lives, who have so much power over them.

Bruce T. Paddock

Kristin -

This is your writing at its best—entertaining, unpretentious, familiar, and profound.

Thank you.

Pamela Cherry

Today we are negotiating the sale of our lovely home in Florida. I want to keep too much and bring back to our lovely home in France. My husband with both feet on the ground was trying to reason with me as to the practicality of taking 'stuff' back other than our personal belongings ..... and then your email arrived .... how timely... 'agir avec sagesse' - so that is what I must do! Florida furniture will not look the same in our house in Brittany anyway!!!
Thank you so much - look forward to your work every day.

All the best to everyone

Michael Wrenn

Merci, Kristin, for your missive plutôt philosophique. Five centuries ago, Montaigne asked the question that is still as relevant today as it was when he asked it: "Que sais-je?"

Bonjour à toutes et à tous de la Napa Valley.
Michael Wrenn


I've heard that simultaneous translation of the phrase "la sagesse Normande" raises a smile among English speakers.

Marianne Rankin

Thomas Edison said that he didn't know one tenth of one percent about anything. That is, no matter how much we know, we are just scratching the surfact of knowledge - there is always more to learn.

On the other hand, even "ignorant" or young people can often show great wisdom (including that one doesn't know everything). Knowledge is more fact-oriented, and wisdom more toward feelings, experience, and judgment.

We need both.


Chere Kristin, what beautiful words and what beautiful thoughts you have imparted to us today! The "having known's" fills me with both a sense of gratitude for all of life's blessings and a yet a sense of shame for having need of a reminder.(!)
You have once again graced us by sharing a treasured memory.
THANK YOU to both you and Max!
Bon journee!

Fred A Caswell

Chere Kristi, I totallement suis d'accord with Bruce T. Paddock. Thanks for another great post!

Felt a close connection once again as it has often been said a moi, "You think too much."

Comme toi, je suis philosophe. There are times I feel envious of others who seem totally certain of their faith and knowledge of "truths." When sharing my ideas and prejudices a copulsion to be honest leads to a confession of fallibility -- "My guess is as good as yours" (or something similar).

It would be great to see de mots de sargess! from "Jewels"! Is your mom OK?

Comme toujours, Fred

Fred A Caswell

Have not replied with posts much over the last 2 months as health concerns and too many rendrevous avec des medecins differents. Doing much better, at least now.

Candy in SW KS

I've been nostalgic today. Perhaps the time of year, perhaps the change in the seasons, but your posting today was perfect for me. The sense of "child", the sense of "knowing", the sense of "importance in the grand scheme of things". It was beautifully written, Kristin. Mille merci. In a chat with a friend on facebook I was reminded of a song by Joni Mitchell called "The Circle Game." You can find it on youtube. For anyone with children or who still have the "sense of childlike wonder" please have a listen. It's one of my favorite songs. Cheers to all on this crisp sunny day in SW KS.

Candy in SW KS

I echo Fred - we miss JULES!!

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Lovely post, Kristi, your ponderings echo those of my own. I enjoyed this post as much today as I did two years ago.

Candy: I too love that song and so very timely.

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Lovely post, Kristi, your ponderings echo those of my own. I enjoyed this post as much today as I did two years ago.

Candy: I too love that song and so very timely.

Kristin Espinasse

Bonjour and merci for these very kind messages! Having read many of your stories (via your links and letters), it is an honor to receive your "thumbs up" for this story. Thank you again!

Thanks also for asking about my mom, Jules. She is doing very well. I wish I could say the same for her computer (which went kerplunk some time ago! This is why you haven't seen any notes from her in a while.)


Kristin, I, like you, once had a friend who was "a genius". He once told me I was the smart one as I could interact and converse comfortably with others which he considered a tremendous source of knowledge, and he could not.


It is interesting you go to your son for insight. I have done the same with Patrick most of his life. He has always had insight about life. I have been criticized for listening to a child, but he is so right on at times. Kids have a way of not thinking too much like adults do. When we think too much, we cloud the truth. That is at least how I look at it I always think too much!! Love the writing; can't wait for the next book.

Bob and Angela

Hi Kristin ~

Your story reminds us of the following quote:

“There are known knowns --things we know that we know. There are known unknowns -- things that we know we don’t know. There are also unknown unknowns -- things we do not know we don’t know.” — United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

You can rightfully be proud that Max is smart enough to know what he doesn't know. Combine that with a bit of curiousity and he should do just fine in this world. (He's already a step ahead of all too many adults!)


Jacqueline Gill

Your post has blessed me yet again. Your son has it right. What I want to say to you , dear Kristin, is that as I get older, I realize how much I don't know and also how much is not worth knowing. Your Word-focused mom and I would have much to talk about! Recently, while back on my old college campus to teach a class, my former professor and mentor and I were discussing some of life's trials and bumps, and she reminded me to "Be still, and know that I am God." What powerful advice! How often we hustle and bustle only to make more of a mess of things. Too much! Not enough calm reflection and an attitude of gratitude for all that is so important.
You are on the right track. You have your head on straight. Someday, much of this world's wisdom will seem very foolish indeed. Blessings to you today, and to your entire brood.


Kristin, those last lines of yours in italics, 'Having known pain, one sympathises with the sufferer'... they are just so beautiful, so perfect... I have copied them onto my wall... thankyou for writing this blog!

Rosalie Smith

i attended La Sagesse Convent Romsey UK from 1953 to 1968.My french remains very poor but I do rember being terrified age 4 by the impending visit of "Bomb mere!!" (Bonne mere, a tiny french reverend mother )We now have a minute holidy home in the Lot and canoe on the Dordogne
(our own canoe so we have to paddle up stream to drift back down)and I love your posts and the photos Thank you

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