Word of the Week: ‘appuyer sur le champignon’

First of all, for any British readers, I wish you a very happy May Bank holiday! 🙂 And in keeping with the spirit of the blog (or if you’re reading this from France), bonne fête du Travail! 

This week, I’ve chosen an expression that comes up among my all-time favourites (mainly because it sounds so brilliant and ridiculous when it’s translated into English). 

A Citroën DS (potentially also with a mushroom-shaped accelerator) in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Word of the Week:
Appuyer sur le champignon. 

The original ‘champignon’, before its meaning got hijacked by the car drivers of France.

How to pronounce it:

App-euw-ee-ay s-uuh-r luh shahm-peen-yohn.

(In French, the letter ‘u’ can make two different vowel sounds. This can be either an ‘oo’ sound, like in the French word ‘roue’, which means ‘wheel’ in English. 

It can also make a sound that doesn’t exist in English. You can hear this in words like ‘cru‘, the French word for ‘raw’, or ‘rue‘, which means ‘street’ in French.

You can have a listen to the pronunciation of ‘appuyer sur le champignon’ here, on the pronunciation website Forvo, which I’ve also linked to for ‘cru’ and ‘rue’ above – and which is really helpful for any pronunciation-related queries!)

What it means in English:

It literally means ‘to press on the mushroom’, with the ‘mushroom’ in this case being a slang word for the accelerator in a car. 

It’s normally translated into English as anything from ‘step on it’ and ‘put your foot down’ to ‘put your foot on the gas’. 

Where does it come from?

As the French website L’Internaute explains here, early models of cars came with accelerators made up of straight rods topped with a rounded bit (to use the technical term). 

This apparently reminded French car drivers of the humble mushroom, and the rest is history.  Reader, the nickname was here to stay.  

(Just to satisfy your raging curiosity, here’s a photo of the mushroom-shaped accelerator pedal in a Ford Capri). 

How to use it in a sentence:

‘Allez, vas-y! Appuie sur le champignon!’ 

English translation:

‘Come on, move it! Put your foot down!’ 

Similar words:

L’accélérateur = The accelerator 
Le frein = The brake (handy to know, in case you or your chauffeur presses ‘sur le champignon’ slightly too enthusiastically…!)

La pédale d’embrayage = The clutch 

Le volant = The steering wheel 

Le rétroviseur = The wing-mirror 

Le capot = The car bonnet

Une vitre = A car window

Une bagnole/une caisse = French slang for ‘car’ (‘bagnole’ could be translated into English as ‘old banger’ or ‘jalopy’, while ‘caisse’ is something like ‘set of wheels’ or ‘ride’). 

Any excuse to re-use a video of one of my favourite scenes from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg… 😍😍

How about you – which French words are among your favourites? 

And for more French-language posts, have a look here

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