étaler

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Novanas

Senior Member
English AE/Ireland
Hello, Folks! I've come across a use of the above word that seems a bit odd and perhaps someone can explain it to me.

The situation is this: a main sewer (un égout collecteur) has burst and is filling the basement of a hotel with water and all sorts of nasty stuff. The fire brigade has come in with their pumps and hoses, but the fire chief doesn't think they will do any good:

Il y a des rats, des coquilles d'huîtres, du carton. . . Jamais les pompes ne pourront étaler.

I suppose "étaler" here means, more or less, "get rid of the stuff". But every dictionary I've looked at tells me étaler is a transitive verb, and I don't find any meaning of the word that is close to "get rid of".

So if anyone can help out here, thanks very much.
 
  • Novanas

    Senior Member
    English AE/Ireland
    Thanks for that, PZ. I don't know why I didn't find it myself. Maybe my glasses were dirty.

    At any rate, perhaps the definition given below "étaler une voie d'eau" is also applicable. As the CNRTL gives it, "Au fig. et fam. (emploi abs.) Se maintenir dans une situation délicate ou difficile." And it gives an example from Céline, "Nous pouvions étaler six mois."

    I think in English we'd say something like, "The pumps will never do the job."
     
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