Sorry if this is not a sensible question, but it is extremely difficult to search for information about the word "or"!

I read the interview with Elisabeth Badinter, French feminist philosopher, in Le Monde, 3 April 2016, page 24. Her replies are directly quoted. She uses "Or" to begin a sentence in two places.

[Of wearing the veil] Seule la loi peut protéger celles qui le portent sous cette pression. Or, lorsqu'on les soutient, on est considéré comme «islamophobe».


Or je crois en l'élite républicaine, même si ce mot est devenu obscène.

Online translators replace "Or" in the original with "But" or "However" in English. However, I don't find this sense of the French word "Or" in the Collins-Robert French Dictionary, nor do I find it there as a possible translation of the English word "However".

Is "But" or "However" a good translation here? Where did this French word "Or" come from? Is it elegant language, to be used by an intellectual in a Le Monde article?

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    You can try to look up "or, conjonction de coordination". – Stéphane Gimenez Apr 7 '16 at 14:47
  • 'However' implies some kind of opposition which is not present in this context. I think 'Furthermore' is probably a better translation here. – vc 74 Apr 7 '16 at 14:52
  • Stéphane, thank you, I was wrong. It is given in Collins-Robert, meaning "And yet" or "But". "Or", please continue this discussion, it is very enlightening! – emrys57 Apr 7 '16 at 15:19

I think a good English translation could be,

"Yet, ...",

"Well, ..."


"Now, ...".

There is always some sort of comparison to a previous statement. Hence, in your examples, the author is saying that even though the law protects those who wear a veil, supporting them makes you out to be an "islamophobe."

Similarly, in the second example, the author claims to believe in an elite Republican, even though the word has become obscene.

To me, "Or, ..." has always sounded intellectual, but that's coming from a non-native so someone else might have a different opinion.

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    I'm not really qualified to say what the "right" answer is, but this one gets the tick, because "Yet", "Well" or "Now" seem to be usable in exactly the same way in English. A break in the argument, perhaps introducing a contrary idea, yet (!) not strong enough to warrant "But". Thanks very much, everyone, fascinating and helpful answers all. – emrys57 Apr 8 '16 at 8:18

Or en début de phrase pose un argument faisant évoluer l'argumentation énoncé dans la phrase précédente dans une direction inattendue.

Dans les exemples cités, il pourrait être remplacé par mais, qui marque une opposition plus marquée, plus frontale, plus évidente.

Sur la phrase concernant le voile, la loi doit prendre en compte les femmes qui le porte par obligation, et qu'il faut donc prendre en compte cette situation particulière

Donc logiquement, si vous le faites, vous comprenez et respectez la Loi...
et on peut remplacer or par une périphrase :

  • ... or l'opinion publique vous taxera d'être contre elles.
  • ... ce qui surprend est que l'opinion publique vous taxera d'être contre elles.
  • ... ce qui rentre en conflit avec l'opinion publique qui vous taxera d'être contre elles.

Pour la seconde phrase1 :

  • S'il existe une phrase précédente pour justifier l'utilisation de or, ce dernier marque ici un moment particulier dans la réflexion ; on pourrait commencer la phrase par Cependant ou Pourtant.

  • Si elle n'est pas précédée d'une phrase significative, on peut le remplacer par Maintenant ou Présentement

1 - Les synonymes qui suivent sont extraits du petit Robert

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A complement. Collins online has the conjunction and provides two use cases, avec valeur d'opposition (opposing value ; yet, but), and introduisant un fait nouveau (a new idea, some novel thing ; now). Larousse Fr-En labels its register as soutenu for whatever reason and provides examples with now/but. For the origin see its etymology (from latin, deriving from hā horā etc.), "Adv. de l'articulation du discours, marque un point important dans l'enchaînement de la pensée, le passage d'une phrase à une autre (succession logique), cet emploi conduisant vers celui de conj. de coordination" (TLFi) (leading to the coordination conjunction). From alors/donc in Chrétiens de Troyes (12th) to 1580 when it's used to add an element to a reasoning (ex. Montaigne). It is unrelated to gold.

For an explanation instead of a translation, one should read the lexicographic entry on the TLFi. There is reference to the novel idea enabling further the argument, with or without an opposing value, but it need not only be that, and it can introduce a full on contradiction, an instance value, a generalization value, etc. The TLFi only labels it rare and literary when it "Introduit un fait significatif qui entraîne dans le récit une pause, voire sa clôture" (introduces a significant event to the story triggering its pause or even the story ending) as with "Paulina avait déjà connaissance du sujet de l'Ombra, elle en était émerveillée, elle naissait au sentiment de la poésie. Or c'était elle qui enfantait la poésie" (Jouve, Paulina). Larousse further says that : "Sa présence correspond à l'oral à une pause qui marque une nouvelle étape dans la pensée." (approx. is like a pause highlighting a new step in the thought process.). Unsurprisingly, it services the intellect (logic) as it also introduces the mineure (minor premise) to a syllogism :

L'exécution soulage et délivre. (...) On meurt parce qu'on est coupable. On est coupable parce qu'on est sujet de Caligula. Or, tout le monde est sujet de Caligula. Donc, tout le monde est coupable.

[ Camus, Caligula, 1944, II, 9, p.47 ds. TLFi (Trésor de la langue française informatisé) ]

Finally if by intellectual you mean someone leveraging reasoning and language to connect ideas in a text, and by elegant you mean the default register used by such a person when doing that, then yes it is. Those are the tools of the trade, yet they are not restricted to Le Monde employees as college students arguably use such words in a standard dissertation. This is about the basic fabric of discourse when connecting things together such as ideas expressed through words, sentences etc.

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"Or" is a synonym of "cependant, pourtant, toutefois", which means indeed "However". Of course, i mean "However" not as in "However you want", but "However, I am...". It is not particularly elegant, i would say it is the opposite, and is used too often.

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    You don't give any insight concerning the real role of this word. It is used for a very precise type of connection between sentences. Using “cependant”, pourtant” or “toutefois” could generate a totally different tone in the argumentation or fail entirely in conveying the argument. – Stéphane Gimenez Apr 7 '16 at 14:56

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