C’est une femme d’un certain âge.
say ewn fahm duh sair-ten NAHZH. Click below to hear this pronounced.
She’s a middle-aged woman.
How old is middle-aged? No one knows for sure, and no one’s telling. And the older the person you ask, the higher the bracket goes.
So in English, we get around this touchy issue with a phrase like middle-aged, which is by definition bracketed by “young” and “old”. It reminds me of the Christopher Robin poem “Halfway Down” from When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne:
Halfway down the stairs / Is a stair / Where I sit. / There isn’t any / Other stair / Quite like / It. / I’m not at the bottom, / I’m not at the top; / So this is the stair / Where / I always / Stop. / Halfway up the stairs / Isn’t up, / And isn’t down. / It isn’t in the nursery, / It isn’t in the town. / And all sorts of funny thoughts / Run round my head: / “It isn’t really / Anywhere! / It’s somewhere else / Instead!”
D’un certain âge is a lot like halfway down the stairs. This woman is of a certain age: not an age that is certain, but a specific, yet unspecified, age. It isn’t old, and it isn’t young. It’s somewhere else instead.
Such delicacy! It’s much more vague than the English, to my way of thinking. I can apply this to myself without feeling too old, or deluding myself that I am younger than I am. I am une femme d’un certain âge, and I can stop here for many years to come. Isn’t it delicious?
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