'Cherchez la Femme': The Sexist French Expression

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"Cherchez la femme" is an expression that does not translate well from French to English. Literally, this phrase translates as "look for the woman." Its meaning in French, though, is quite a bit more nuanced.

English Meaning

In English, this expression actually means the "same problem as ever," similar to the expression, "go figure." However, that is not the meaning native French speakers are conveying when they use the phrase, which is also often misspelled as "Churchy la femme."

French Meaning

The original meaning is much more sexist than its literal translation. The expression comes from the 1854 novel "The Mohicans of Paris" by Alexandre Dumas, in which he stated:

  • Cherchez la femme, pardieu! Cherchez la femme!

The phrase—which translates as "Seek the woman, by God (or certainly)! Seek the woman!"—is repeated several times in the novel.

The French meaning implies that no matter what the problem may be, a woman is often the cause. Look for the mistress, jealous wife, or angry lover: A woman is at the root of each problem. You might use the phrase in French as follows:

  • Je n'ai plus d'argent. > I no longer have money.
  • Cherchez la femme. > Look for the woman. (Your wife must have spent it all.)

Another French Phrase to Use With Caution

Beware of other French phrases that are commonly used by English speakers, including

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir > Do you want to sleep (make love) with me tonight?

As with "Cherchez la femme," they may be misused and offensive. 

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Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "'Cherchez la Femme': The Sexist French Expression." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/cherchez-la-femme-sexist-french-expression-1368635. Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. (2020, August 26). 'Cherchez la Femme': The Sexist French Expression. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cherchez-la-femme-sexist-french-expression-1368635 Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "'Cherchez la Femme': The Sexist French Expression." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/cherchez-la-femme-sexist-french-expression-1368635 (accessed January 27, 2023).