Ils se débrouillent tant bien que mal.

Ils se débrouillent tant bien que mal.

eel sday-broo-yuh tah byaa kuh mahl. Click below to hear this.*

And here it is, spoken more slowly:

They are muddling along.

Today’s post is dedicated to those who wake up every morning wondering how they are going to make it through the day. I know a few people like that, and I’m betting that you do, too.

Our French expression is in two parts. Ils se débrouillent means to get along, to manage, to find one’s way out of trouble. Literally? They are defogging themselves. I love that, because when we are in trouble, we feel stuck in the fog, unable to see our way clearly. Or, for a different image, un brouillon is a draft copy, a rough copy, which is often very rough indeed: covered with scribbles, difficult to decipher, uncertain of outcome.

Part two is tant bien que mal. The usual translation is one way or another, or somehow, or as well as can be expected. Literally, however, it can be translated this way: as well as badly, which is too elliptical to make much sense in English. It means that they are neither as badly off as they thought, nor as well off as they might like to be. But isn’t that true for most of us?

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:

ils-se-debrouillent-tant-bien-que-mal.mp3

tant_bien_que_mal.mp3

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