French Language Blog

Long Arms To Reach Farther – Powerful And Influential French Expression Posted by on Mar 28, 2019 in Vocabulary

Having long arms won’t help you learn French faster, but being able to say avoir le bras long will help you learn a new expression!

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

La semaine dernière (last week), I shared a story about learning how to use a common sarcastic expression, long comme le bras (as long as your arm):

As Long As Your Arm – Exaggerating In French

While trying to find the l’origin (the origin) of the long armed saying, I found another interesting idiom that involves le bras I had never heard before:

Avoir le bras long
To have the long arm

Of course, my first thought was that I had made une faute (a mistake) and incorrectly learned l’expression (the expression)!

Heureusement (fortunately), the truth was that it’s another new expression I needed to learn.

Avoir le bras long means to have influence. L’expression is used for someone who has an extensive network of good contacts, someone who knows the right people to get things moving. It’s used for someone who is influent (influential) and has un bon carnet d’adresses (a good address book).

Most origin stories I could find take the saying au premier degré (literally) and cite the image of two people, one with long arms the other with short. The who who has long arms is going to be able to reach more things and be able to get more done. It’s a short hop from there to the idea of being more influential and being connected.

A very interesting note I found in a lot of definitions and explanations involving le bras long were how there is a difference depending on if you use the singular or plural forms. The general rule is that au singulier (in the singular form) le bras signifies power and force and au pluriel (in the plural form) inaction and weakness.

Other than avoir le bras long, an example that jumps out is:

Bras de fer
Power struggle or arm wrestling (literally iron arm)

Whether it’s welcoming someone new aux bras ouverts (with open arms) or exaggerating just how big of a fish was on the other end of the line, be sure to make sure to use the right arm expression to not be left confused.

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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.