French Language Blog

Stuck In The Stuffing – Running Late In French Posted by on Nov 14, 2018 in Vocabulary

The fast pace of a busy work day leaves little room for mistakes. When you are au bureau (at work), it’s important to know how to deal with new words or forgetting vocabulary so you can quickly tackle the task at hand.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

When un collègue (a coworker) uses une expression ou de l’argot (a expression or slang), I don’t always have the time or luxury of stopping the conversation to figure out what exactly is being said.

Instead, in these tight schedule scenarios, I have to rely on context getting me through the parts I don’t understand or wait until a more appropriate time to ask what something means.

Heureuseemnt (luckily), most of the time les malentendus (misunderstandings) are small things related to small talk more than professional jargon.

Par exemple (for example), I needed something from un collègue and after a few days I had not received a response. I wanted to remind them that I was still waiting and decided to spark up a conversation:

Salut ! Ça va ?
Oui je sais. Je suis désolé. Je suis à la bourre.

Hi! How’s it going?
Yes I know. I’m sorry. I’m à la bourre.

I had never heard cette expression before, but understood it meant I would have to wait longer. In fact, the only related word I could think of was bourré (wasted, drunk), but I was pretty sure that was not what mon collègue wanted to say.

I decided to ask someone who wasn’t busy what exactly the expression meant:

Tu connais l’expression “être à la bourre” ?
Oui bien sûr.
Alors, tu peux m’expliquer qu’est-ce que ça veut dire exactement ?
Haha, oui ! Ça veut dire “pressé” ou “en retard” !
Ah oui, merci !
De rien !

You know the expression, “être à la bourre“?
Yes of course.
So, can you explain what exactly it means to me?
Haha yes! It means “in a hurry” or “late”!
Ah yes, thanks!
You’re welcome!

After that short conversation, I fully understood l’expression, but I wanted to look up son origine (its origin) because I still didn’t really know the definition for la bourre. To my disappointment, la bourre has no obvious connection to being in a hurry or running late:

La bourreStuffing, filling

In regards to être à la bourre, it seems most likely to have come from le verbe (the verb):

To stuff, to fill

While la connexion may not be obvious at first, the definition of bourrer can also seen to generally mean bloquer ou arrêter (to block or to stop) from where the idea to be pressé or en retard comes into play. If you’re blocked or stopped then you can’t go forward or advance and if you can’t advance then you’re going to be late or at the very least be in a hurry.

There is another theory that l’expression comes from l’occitan, the language traditionally spoken in Southern France. In occitan there is an expression that is used in a card game from the region, es a la borra (il est à la bourre in French), but the connection to meaning pressé ou en retard is hard to make.

The busy days and tired nights of office life make être à la bourre useful for anyone working in a french speaking environment. The next time you’re running a little late and need to let un collègue know, try to use l’expression and say:

Je suis à la bourre !
I’m running late!

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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.