One of the words that came up in the French Conversation Group last night was faillir [fa.jiʁ], which means to almost do something or to fail.
Whether you almost do something or fail to do it is really a matter of perspective – the end result is the same. Yesterday, for example, I almost made another episode of the Radio Omniglot podcast. I recorded about 15-20 minutes of it several times, decided it wasn’t good enough, then got distracted with other things, as often happens. I can talk about language-related topics at the drop of a hat until the cows come home, but actually making my ramblings into a reasonably coherent podcast is a different kettle of fish. The editing always takes quite a while, and I usually find something else to do instead.
Today I told myself that I would make the podcast first thing, before checking emails, or getting distracted by other things. Several hours later I still haven’t produced the podcast, but I have learnt some more Swedish and Danish, answered some emails and written this.
Anyway, back to faillir – appears in expressions like:
- faillir faire = to almost/nearly do
- J’ai failli tomber = I almost/nearly fell
- J’ai failli lui dire = I almost/nearly told him
- J’ai failli l’oublier = I almost forgot about it
- faillir à qch = to fall short of sth
- faillir à sa tâche = to fall short of one’s tsak
- faillir à son devoir = to fall short of one’s duty
- Il ne faut pas faillir à notre devoir = We must not falter in our duty now
- J’ai un plan astucieux qui ne peut faillir = I have a cunning plan that cannot fail
- avoir failli faire qch = to narrowly miss doing sth
Related words include:
- failli(e) = bankrupt, insolvent
- la faillite = bankruptcy, collapse (political)
- une entreprise en faillite = a bankrupt business
- être en faillite = to be bankrupt
- faire en faillite = to go bankrupt, fail, go broke, go bust
- la ferme a failli faire en faillite = the farm almost went bankrupt
- il faut qu’il faille faire en faillite = he must almost go bankrupt
- faille = flaw, loophole, weak spot, fault
- faille fiscale = tax loophole
- faille spatio-temporelle = time warp
Faillir comes from the Middle French faillir (to fail), from the Old French falir, from the Vulgar Latin *fallīre, from the Latin fallere (to deceive, disappoint, cheat), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰāl- (to lie, deceive). The English word fail comes from the same root, via the Middle English failen, and the Anglo-Norman faillir (to fail).
Another way to say that you almost did something is J’ai presque fait qch, for example, Il est presque tombé and Il a failli tomber both mean ‘He almost fell’. In the case of the latter, the impression I get is that he was expected to fall, but didn’t, while in the case of the former, there seems to be no expectation that he would fall. Is that right?