Word of the Week: ‘rhume des foins’

Ahh, summer… when we finally get to June, July and August, after the hard thankless slog of a British winter, most of us have visions of long, lazy days spent barbecuing, sunbathing and picnicking in searing 30-degree heat. 

Apart from the poor few, that is, who’ve been afflicted with hay fever. Or, as our French neighbours like to call it, le rhume des foins. 


Word of the Week:

This week, we’ve got ‘rhume des foins’ as our mot de la semaine. 

How to pronounce it:

R-ew-m day fwah. 

The ‘u’ sound in ‘rhume’ is specific to French, as there isn’t any equivalent vowel sound in English. However, it’s similar to an ‘ew’ sound. 

The same sound is also found in French words like ‘lumière’ (light), ‘musée’ (museum) and ‘rue’ (road). 

What it means in English:

Although it literally translates into English as ‘cold of the hay’, (‘avoir un rhume’ means ‘to have a cold’ in French and ‘les foins’ is ‘hay’), a more natural English translation would be ‘hay fever’. 

For most people, this looks like a pretty nice way to spend a summer’s day. For hay fever sufferers, on the other hand, it’s a bit more of a challenge.

Where does it come from?

The word ‘rhume’ comes from the Latin word ‘rheuma’, which means ‘cold’ and which itself comes from Ancient Greek. 

‘Foin’ also comes from Latin, as it’s derived from the Latin word for hay, ‘fenum’. 


How to use it in a sentence:

Les mois de l’été sont particulièrement difficiles pour ceux qui souffrent du rhume des foins. 

English translation:

The summer months are particularly difficult for hay fever sufferers. 

A pleasant countryside excursion or a Tough Mudder-style assault course for the sinuses? Discuss.

Similar words:

La rhinite allergique = Allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. the ‘posh’ way of saying that you get hay fever 😉)

La rhinite saisonnière = Seasonal rhinitis (the French-Canadian way of saying you’ve got hay fever – just to make sure you’re understood by both our European and North American friends!) 

Être allergique aux pollens = And now for probably the most straightforward way of saying you’ve got hay fever – you’re ‘allergic to pollen’.


Hope you enjoyed this Word of the Week! 

If you’d like to read more Word of the Week, feel free to have a look at the Language section of the blog here! 🇫🇷

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