Pile ou face?
PEE loo FAHSS? Click below to hear this pronounced!
Heads or tails?
Since early historical times, coins have been struck featuring the head of an important personage…ruler (Caesar), famous individual (Lincoln), symbolic representative of the nation (Marianne). It’s almost always a human being, so heads in English and face in French both make sense.
Face is the Old French word for face; in modern French, in general, la figure (lah fee-GEWR) refers to the physical face, while le visage (luh vee-ZAHZH) refers to the expression on the face.
But where did we get tails and pile from? In English, tail is usually considered the opposite of head, as in, I can’t make head nor tail of it. As for pile, it appears to come from an Old French word that designated the underside of the hammer that strikes the coin. (Coins used to be made one by one, by hand, of course.) Nowadays, une pile can mean many things: a battery, a stack, a pile (a pillar of masonry used to hold up a dock, a bridge, or similar structure).
Pile can even mean on the dot: Je suis arrivé(e) pile (zhuh swee zaa-ree-vay PEEL) means I arrived just in time. Il est trois heures pile (ee lay trwah zuhr PEEL) means It’s three o’clock on the dot.
To propose tossing a coin, you say: On joue (or on tire) à pile ou face? Think when you make your choice, though; note that the French reverses the order of the English one. French heads is the second choice, not the first.
And…there’s an app for that! If you have an iPhone, you can go to this link if you are in the US and want to buy it. Or use this link if you just want to see which is pile and which is face on a 1-euro coin.