11 Fantastic French Phrases for Baseball Terms

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During their years in Montreal, Expos games were broadcast in both English and French, with Jacques Doucet and Claude Raymond serving as the French-language team. To do so, they had to translate the lexicon of the historically American game into French. Some words were easy enough, but for quirkier terms they had to search for the right French phrase. In his account of the Expos' history, Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos, Jonah Keri talked to Doucet and Raymond about that experience and includes a list of some of the French terms they coined. Here are some of our favorites.

1. French Term: Balle papillon
Means: knuckleball
"Papillon" means butterfly, a reference to the knuckleball's fluttery movement.

2. French Term: Cercle d'attente
Means: On-deck circle
Literally translates to "waiting circle," which makes even more sense than our English term.

3. French Term: Changement de vitesse
Means: Changeup
"Changement" means "change" but the whole phrase actually translates directly to mean "shift." It's unclear how to reference a "shift" on the field in French.

4. French Term: Balle cassante
Means: Breaking ball
In French, the ball is not "breaking" but "brittle."

5. French Term: But volé
Means: Stolen base
"But" actually means "purpose" but it can also be used to mean a "goal" or "target', which is how it came to be the French word for "base."

6. French Term: Arrêt-court
Means: Shortstop
This actually says "stop-short" in French.

7. French Term: Coup sûr
Means: Hit
"Coup" is a widely used action word, meaning "blow" or "knock" or even "hit." "Sûr" means safe.

8. French Term: Flèche
Means: Line Drive
The direct translation means "arrow," which is a beautifully evocative and accurate description.

9. French Term: Mauvais lancer
Means: Wild pitch
Or, "bad throw," which it is.

10. French Term: Retrait and retrait sur trois prises
Means: Out and strikeout
"Retrait" is a withdrawal and "trois prises" is "three taken."

11. French Term: Vol au sol
Means: Shoestring catch
These last-minute catches, just before the ball hits the grass, are what the French call a "ground flight."


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