Je l’ai échappé belle.
zhlay ay-shah-PAY BELL. Click below to hear this!
I escaped by the skin of my teeth.
This is one of those expressions that absolutely can’t be dissected. True, the first three words literally mean I escaped it. But belle? Beautiful? An adjective, in its feminine form yet, tacked onto a verbal phrase? Adjectives don’t describe verbs. Doesn’t make logical sense.
But this is how French speakers express the idea behind I escaped by the skin of my teeth. And the English isn’t any too logical, either. Since when do teeth have skin?
And then we have to add another, related, idiom: in English, I caught the train by the skin of my teeth. This situation, accomplishing something rather than avoiding something, calls for a different expression in French: J’ai attrapé le train de justesse (zhay aa-traa-pay luh TRAA duh zhew-STESS).
De justesse means by a very slim margin. In essence, what you are saying is I just caught the train, but that expression in English can also mean only a moment ago.
And don’t confuse de justesse with la justice, which means justice and a host of related concepts. That’s tomorrow’s topic!