French Language Blog

Learning Voting Vocabulary With A Ballot Mistake Posted by on Nov 7, 2018 in Vocabulary

After the spooky end of October, les élections de mi-mandat (the midterm elections) quickly arrived with a day involving more than just making decisions on future government positions and new laws. For French learners, it was also a vocabulary test every time the topic came up in conversation!

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Living en France, the US midterm elections meant more than making sure my absentee ballot was received and that all the circles were filled in properly. The day was also filled with an unexpected challenge when I needed to explain les élections de mi-mandat and how I was able to vote in them while abroad.

When the topic first came up, I quickly realized that I needed to learn some vocabulary:

Tu peux voter depuis la France ?
Oui, il faut juste demander qu’on te donne un ballot.
Un ballot ?
Oui, il faut avoir un ballot pour voter.
Tu es sérieux ?
Oui, j’imagine c’est pareil en France !
Arrête de plaisanter !
Mais ce n’est pas une blague !
Tu as besoin d’un idiot pour pouvoir voter ?
Comment ?
Mais c’est ce que tu viens de dire !

You can vote from France?
Yes, you just have to ask for a dimwit.
A dimwit?
Yes, you need a dimwit to vote.
Are you serious?
Yes, I imagine it’s the same in France!
Stop joking!
But it’s not a joke!
You need an idiot to be able to vote?
But it’s what you just said!

At that moment it became clear I had made a mistake and said something weird en français.

Un ballot in French is not a ballot in English. It has many meanings, but the most unfortunate one for les anglophones (English speakers) who are trying to explain le vote (voting) is dimwit or fool. It’s a rather soft and somewhat outdated insult that will turn a few heads if you accidentally use it in such a serious context.

Once I collected my thoughts, I then had to try to make myself understood so mon collègue (my coworker) didn’t think I was crazy. I wanted to learn the right vocabulary so my goal was to try to make them say the word I needed to learn:

Non ! Je voulais dire le papier où on marque ses choix.
Un bulletin de vote ?
Oui ! Au moins je pense que c’est ça… On peut en demander un à distance et après il suffit de l’envoyer par la poste.
Ah oui, je vois.

No! I wanted to say the paper where you mark your choices.
A ballot paper?
Yes! At least I think that’s it… You can ask for one remotely and after you just need to send it by mail.
Ah yes, I see.

I clearly made my point and learned how to say un bulletin de vote, but I still wasn’t sure how to say le vote par procuration (absentee ballot). I wasn’t going to push things further, but when I had a chance to look it up I discovered how much election vocabulary I didn’t know en français!

As an aside, I also discovered a fun expression française (French expression) involving the word ballot:

C’est ballot !
That’s a shame!

Voici un vocabulaire des élections :

L’élection – Election
Le vote – Voting, vote
Le scrutin – Voting, vote
Le bulletin de vote – Ballot
Le vote par procuration – Absentee Ballot
Les élections de mi-mandat – Midterm Elections
Le mandat – Mandate, Term
Voter – To Vote
Élire – To elect
Élu – Elected
Le citoyen – Citizen
Sonder – To Poll
Le sondage – Poll (noun)
La Maison-Blanche – The White House
Le sénat – Senate
Le sénateur – Senator
Le Congrès – Congress
La Chambre des représentants – House of Representatives
Le représentant – Representative
Le district – District
Le gouverneur – Governor
L’amendement – Amendment

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.