Remettre les pendules à l’heure

French physicist Léon Foucault was born on September 18, 1819. After being taught at home, Foucault entered medical school. He switched to physics, however, due to his fear of blood. His first field of interest was Daguerre’s photographic process. He continued to work in the field of light, eventually proving that it moves more slowly through water than through air, disproving Newton’s theories.  Foucault’s best known for his experiments about the earth’s rotation. He suspended a pendulum from the center of the dome of the Panthéon, the resting place of French heros, to prove his theories. His simple-seeming experiment was considered so revolutionary that other Foucault Pendulums were suspended in cities throughout the world. Since there was no television in 1851, these displays drew crowds.

I struggled mightily with physics in high school, so I don’t have the foggiest notion of what any of his experiments actually mean. Suffice it to say, Foucault was showered with honors, including the Légion d’Honneur. He died on February 11, 1868. Like Daguerre, his is one of the 72 names of the men of science inscribed on the Eiffel Tower. He is not, however, buried in the Panthéon but rather in the cemetery in Montmartre. I hope that he rests peacefully there and does not rotate whatsoever.

Today’s expression is remettre les pendules à l’heure (ruh-met-ruh lay pehndool ah luhr), which figuratively means “to set the record straight.” Literally, however, it means “to put the clocks back on time.” Pendule is one of those words that has a dual meaning depending on the gender. If it’s masculine, un pendule, it means a pendulum à la Foucault. If it’s feminine, une pendule, it means a grandfather clock. If you have a clock with weights, you’ll know that gradually the pendulums descend and must be gently pulled back up to keep the clock ticking along. It’s an apropos phrase for the man who set the record straight about light – even though I just have to take all his brilliance on faith.

Pendulum: Léon Foucault and the Triumph of Science


About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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4 Responses to Remettre les pendules à l’heure

  1. Mariaroza Opperman says:

    Dearest Patricia

    Hi Danie Opperman’s wife here, I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful blog. I enjoy it so much and forget to thank you for all the trouble you go to not only share very interesting facts about people and other things of French Living, but the adorable pronunciation and words of interest as well. I took French for seven years at school but wish I had lived in France to immerse myself in the beautiful language. I have been able to “get by” when I have been blessed to go to France with very basic conversation with the French. Paris is one of our favourite cities to see, we never get tired of walking the streets and taking in the people. It is one of the few places I have ever visited where I have eaten like a horse but lost weight! Thank you again for making it all come alive to me. Hope you are able to make your dreams of living there come true, sure Cliff and your daughter would enjoy it as much as you, Merci Beaucoup Mariaroza

  2. Anonymous says:

    Kinda drastic don’t you think?

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