Learn French With Just One Word

It all started with a simple “je te passe le bâton“. Now, the real French speakers among you might think I was handing over a stick to my companion. Very plausible, but not so. What I was trying to say was something like “you take over, I’m handing over to you”. In the manner of a relay runner, handing over the baton to their teammate.

Le bâton

Le baton de rougeLe bâton. What do you think le bâton is? I knew it was a stick. I knew it was a ski-pole and I knew it was the thing the conductor waves at the orchestra. It turns out it’s also the thing policemen carry to bash naughty people with, it’s lipstick (specifically bâton de rouge à lèvres), it’s a vertical stroke (|) and it’s ten thousand francs. And a few other things. So many meanings for such a little word!

But it’s not the thing that relay runners hand over to each other. So what is that?

Le témoin

Le TemoinLe témoin. Aha. Le témoin. I thought I knew what un témoin was. A witness, yes? Yes. But also, the best man and the thing that relay runners hand over to each other.

Let’s not miss the opportunity along the way to learn another useful piece of vocabulary Les Témoins de Jehovah which means exactly what you might expect.

Je te passe le témoin?

So what I should have said is je te passe le témoin. But No. Of course not. That would be far too simple. Although to be fair, “I’m handing you the witness” doesn’t make much sense in English either. So what can it be?

Le relais

Here’s a clue. Where do you find un témoin?  In a relay, perhaps? A relay. Could that be un relais? Ten points, go to the top of the class. Un relais is indeed a relay. As well as a truck-stop, transport café, and a relay in all the television, radio and electrical senses you’ll find in English. And significantly, travailler par relais is to do shift work. And in there is the final clue. I finally found what I was looking for. “Je te passe le relais“. I’m handing over to you.

For completeness, the phrase is passer le relais à quelqu’un. To hand over to someone. The opposite is prendre le relais de quelqu’un. To take over from someone.

So there you are. So many new words, so much to learn, just from one little mistake.