Être la lanterne rouge

July 4, 2007

The Tour de France is starting in London this weekend. The Guardian has produced a booklet giving all sorts of information about it, including a short glossary of cycling terms. Amongst others, I learnt that the expression Être la lanterne rouge (to be the red lantern), which means to come last or to lose, is "derived from the red lantern found at the end of French trains" or of a convoy.

Le glossaire du vélo (in French): A-E and F-Z

Wikipedia’s cycling terminology

French-English dictionary of cycling (English-French)

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Posted by céline on July 4, 2007
Idioms

Comments

Red lights on the back of U.S. trains too. Robert Johnson:

When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind
Well, the blue light was my blues
and the red light was my mind
All my love's in vain

Posted by xensen on July 4, 2007 5:53 PM

In Portuguese we have "o lanterninha" meaning exactly the same thing! The dictionary says nothing about the origin of the expression, but it must be the same or it could even be a French import.

Posted by Enigmatic Mermaid on July 4, 2007 11:41 PM

And how would one translate "être la lanterne rouge", both in the cycling sense and in a more general one ?

To be last: rather dull

To bring up the rear ?

I'd always thought that, in a general, non-cycling context, one could "be tail-end Charlie". Wrong.

It seems that this is (or, rather, was) only used for the brave men who were rear gunners on bombers during the Second World War. A lonely and probably harrowing position to be in.

Posted by Xavier Kreiss on July 5, 2007 12:29 AM

And how would one translate "être la lanterne rouge", both in the cycling sense and in a more general one ?

To be last: rather dull

To bring up the rear ?

I'd always thought that, in a general, non-cycling context, one could "be tail-end Charlie". Wrong.

It seems that this is (or, rather, was) only used for the brave men who were rear gunners on bombers during the Second World War. A lonely and probably harrowing position to be in.

Posted by Xavier Kreiss on July 5, 2007 12:32 AM

Great quote, xensen, thanks.

I couldn't find an equivalent English expression, but surely there is one, isn't there?

Posted by céline on July 5, 2007 8:32 AM

Somebody suggested to me "to get the wooden spoon". I like it, and http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/8/messages/576.html confirms it's a goodun: "To get the wooden spoon is now a prize for finishing last in a sporting event or other competition. It derives from a Cambridge University custom of presenting such a spoon to the person last in the Maths Tripos. In 1811 there were three classes of Honours degree; the first were called Wranglers and were said to be born with golden spoons in their mouths. The second were Senior Optimes and had silver spoons in their mouths. The third type were Junior Optimes and were born with lead spoons; the last Junior Optime was called the Wooden spoon. Those without Honours were either meritorious, in the Gulf, or just one of the Many."

Posted by céline on July 5, 2007 10:59 AM

Curioulsy, we have exactly the same expression in Spanish (at least in Spain, I don't know about Latin America): "ser el farolillo rojo". It is used very frecuently in football (soccer) to indicate the team at the very bottom of the table.

Posted by Jerónimo Fernández on July 9, 2007 10:14 PM

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