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To the Bottom and Back

Did you know that the French word for the back of a space is the same as the word for the bottom of a space? The word is le fond, and determining its meaning is a question of perspective: 



Et l'on voit encore des vestiges, des traces de cette époque

And you can still see remains, traces from that time,

avec notamment dans le fond, une chapelle pour se recueillir...

with, in particular, in the back, a chapel for meditating...

Captions 36-37, Lionel - Verdun

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L'eau de l'étang était si profonde que

The pond water was so deep that

la princesse ne pouvait pas en voir le fond.

the princess could not see the bottom of it.

Caption 7, Contes de fées - Le roi grenouille

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We can tell what le fond means in each of these examples based on the type of space they're describing. The subject of the first example is the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Verdun. A chapel wouldn't be located on the bottom of a cathedral, but in the back. And in the second example, the princess is looking down into the pond, which means she's trying to see the bottom of it, not the back.


Whether it means "the back" or "the bottom," le fond refers to the depth of a space. But it can also refer to depth in a non-physical, metaphorical sense—even a spiritual one: 


"Om", ça signifie le fond cosmique qui est...

"Om" signifies the cosmic depth that is...

le symbole de l'unité dans la diversité.

the symbol of unity in diversity.

Caption 37, Paix et partage - Journée Internationale du yoga

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Fond is used in quite a few expressions, such as dans le fond and au fond, both meaning "basically":


Dans le fond, c'est des grosses feuilles de betterave.

Basically, they're big beet leaves.

Caption 13, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

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Parce que au fond, le fait de payer un stand,

Because basically, the act of paying for a booth,

ça sert aussi, euh, d'abord à se rencontrer...

that also helps, uh, first of all to meet each other...

Captions 65-66, Actu Vingtième - Le vide-grenier

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Don't confuse au fond with à fond, which means "totally": 


Ah, que griller des feux. -Griller des verts, donc. -À fond.

Oh, just running lights. -Running green lights, then. -Totally.

Caption 49, Cap 24 - Les cyclistes parisiens sont-ils indisciplinés ?

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There's also de fond, an adjective phrase meaning "fundamental": 


Mais pour une baisse en rayon,

But for a reduction on store shelves,

la prochaine étape devrait être une réforme de fond.

the next step should be a fundamental reform.

Caption 23, Le Journal - Contrôle des prix alimentaires

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If you'd like to explore the many expressions using this word de fond en comble (from top to bottom), we recommend this WordReference entry


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