1. maitrekapelo Banned

    Estonia, French
    How can I translate in english 'usine à gaz'?
  2. carolineR

    carolineR Senior Member

    Indian Ocean
    une "usine à gaz" est une expression récente qui désigne un ensemble de systèmes compliqués qui fait tout et n'importe quoi.
    Rien à voir avec le gaz :)
  3. maitrekapelo Banned

    Estonia, French
    pardon j'aurais dû être plus précis. Effectivement, cette expression désigne quelque chose de flou qui fait tout et n'importe quoi. LOrsque l'on essaie de comprendre ce que ce quelque chose fait on se rend compte que finalement il ne fait rien

    according to wikipedia : En français, l'expression "usine à gaz " est un terme péjoratif, désignant quelque chose de très grand, de très compliqué, voire de très coûteux et dont on a beaucoup parlé, mais ne servant pas ou ne produisant pas grand chose en réalité.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 2, 2017
  4. archijacq Senior Member

    french France
    top-heavy, unwieldy, slow and impractical: "a Heath Robinson device"/"a kludge".
  5. LARSAY Senior Member

    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Originally, an "usine à gaz" is the place containing the huge tanks in which gas is stored for distribution to the consumers. Consequently, it is not an "usine" at all, just a storage installation. Hence the use of the expression to speak about something big, looking complicated, costly, but not doing much (in the 50s, it was the name given to the computers of the time, which covered 500m2 and weighed 30 tonnes). SO, if the English text was talking about the original "usine à gaz", the translation would be "gas storage plant". Now, in the new interpretation, I would suggest "White elephant".
  6. Guillaume37 Senior Member

    France / French
    The phrase is also used to criticize new boards and commissions that are created and are completely phoney and useless. White elephant and kludge sound perfect.
  7. clairet

    clairet Senior Member

    London & Bordeaux
    England & English (UK version)
    Recently I've seen several references to "usine à gaz" where it clearly does not mean a gasworks. An example to hand: a newspaper headline "Les pharmaciens craignent l'usine à gaz" about opposition to the proposed "franchise" on medecines and which contains this text from the journalist quoting a pharmacist
    "..<<...Mais ceux qui ont des maladies graves...(qui) sont trop pauvres pour pouvoir se soigner normalement..>> Sans compter assure-t-il, qu'il << craint l'usine à gaz!>> Et de se demander sur quel prorata des 9/12 on va calcular le forfait pour une femme enceinte, ..etc" There's nothing else in the article which helps.

    I can barely make a guess: the whole system blowing up?
  8. RuK Senior Member

    Outside Paris
    English/lives France
    A usine à gaz is a Rube Goldberg machine. An unneccessarily complicated creation that functions poorly.
  9. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    Une usine à gaz is a setup, a device, a regulation so complex you can know from the start that it will not work satisfactorily.
  10. Jean-Michel Carrère Senior Member

    French from France
    Is RuK's suggestion widely understood in the English-speaking world ?
  11. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    Yes, they are very well known under this name.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2015
  12. clairet

    clairet Senior Member

    London & Bordeaux
    England & English (UK version)
    I think Wildan1's answer applies to AE. I'd never heard of Rube Goldberg and, while RUK obviously has, I doubt many in the UK would have. We'd say "Heath-Robinson machine" (after a well-known, in the UK, cartoonist).
  13. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    You are correct. Rube Goldberg was a famous US political cartoonist who drew many of these imiginary machines as a way to criticize bureaucracies, etc.

    It seems that a similar concept is expressed locally in different ways around the world, according to Wikipedia--all seemingly inspired by cartoonists.
  14. WME Senior Member

    I have carefully looked into every proposition but I'm not really satisfied. What about "black box" ?
  15. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    A black box figuratively describes a process that is complex but unclear at this time.

    It may need the complexity, however, so calling something a black box simply means it is so far unexplainable. It does not usually carry the criticism usine à gaz carries. I think the other suggestions above are better.

    See this discussion of black box.

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