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Le cinq à sept

French expressions analyzed and explained

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Le cinq à sept
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Expression: Le cinq à sept

Pronunciation: [leu seh(n) ka set]

Meanings: afternoon tryst (France), happy hour (Québec)

Literal translation: the five to seven (o'clock)

Register: informal

Notes: The expression le cinq à sept refers to what could be considered a very French version of Happy Hour: the two-hour period after work, from 5 to 7 pm, when (some) people meet up with their lovers before going home to their spouses. Translation: an afternoon tryst.

The reality of le cinq à sept was openly acknowledged for perhaps the first time in Françoise Sagan's 1967 novel La Chamade. Just for fun, I had my husband ask his students (aged 40 and up) about it, and they all said they were very familiar with le cinq à sept, with one exception. The youngest said she didn't know it, then added a caveat: Mais je viens de me marier, alors qui sait ce qui va se passer dans vingt ans.

Incidentally, the French translation of "tryst" is un rendez-vous galant - further proof that everything sounds better in French. Well almost: for "happy hour," the correct translation is heure du cocktail or heure de l'apéritif, but instead they usually stick with 'appy hour.

In Québec, le cinq à sept has nothing to do with sex. It refers to a group of friends meeting up to have a drink after work, or before an evening outing to a play or some other entertainment. In this sense, le cinq à sept might be translated by "happy hour" or, if it doesn't include alcohol, just something generic like "afternoon get-together" or "rendez-vous."


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