Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

À bâtons rompus

So you want to dazzle your friends by whipping out the phrase à bâtons rompus in conversation? Impress your teacher with a perfect translation? Easy enough! But first, here's some background information to help you understand how the expression evolved to describe things said or done with frequent interruptions.

Where did à bâtons rompus come from?

The expression may have its origins in the Middle Ages when bâtons rompus referred to a tapestry whose irregular pattern resembled interconnected lines. The key word here is "irregular." Then again, the expression may have made its way into everyday language through the beat of a military drum. Beating a drum à bâtons rompus means playing two successive drum strikes with both sticks. But no drum roll, please! The drum beat can't be continuous; otherwise, it wouldn't be à bâtons rompus.

So what does it mean?

Given the origins of this phrase, you can understand why today à bâtons rompus means disjointed, with frequent interruptions. Most often, it describes an informal discussion between two or more people where the conversation jumps from one topic to another. But it can sometimes describe something that is done, or happens, with repeated interruptions. Refer to the list below to find ways to use or translate this French idiom:

  • Les deux filles parlaient à bâtons rompus.
    The two girls were talking about this and that.
    The two girls were chit-chatting.
    The two girls were making small talk.
  • On a eu une conversation à bâtons rompus.
    We made casual (or idle) conversation.
  • Ils ont causé à bâtons rompus pendant des heures.
    They talked about everything and nothing for hours.
  • Les discussions seront ouvertes, franches et à bâtons rompus.
    Discussion will be open, frank and free-flowing (free-ranging).
  • J'ai eu l'occasion d'avoir une conversation à bâtons rompus avec elle.
    I had the opportunity to have an informal conversation with her.
  • La trêve a mis un terme à sept décennies de guerre à bâtons rompus.
    The truce brought an end to seven decades of on-and-off warfare.
  • J'ai dormi à bâtons rompus hier soir.
    I had a broken night's sleep.
  • Nous avons travaillé sur ce projet à bâtons rompus.
    We worked on this project in fits and starts.