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[original] : Notre petite ruse semble avoir fait long feu...

Compared to saying in the negative:

Notre petite ruse n’a pas fait long feu... {didn’t last long}

Does the original sentence mean:

"Our little trickery seems to have been short-lived {didn’t last long}."

or : "Our little trickery has lasted for quite a while but seems to have come to an end at last."

  • I once wondered about this too, and indeed the positive and negative versions are different expressions: fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/faire_long_feu vs fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/ne_pas_faire_long_feu. – Alan O'Donnell Dec 27 '16 at 20:26
  • @AlanO'Donnell Cor bli... Who would've thought they were two different things?! So the English equivalent would be: "Our little trickery hasn't panned out the way we'd hoped". The question is: Did they come ever so close to pulling it off? Or it never really got off the ground? I'm leaning towards the former, but what's your take? :) – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Dec 27 '16 at 21:25
  • Huh, I had never actually thought about that nuance. I don't actually know--I've always understood "faire long feu" to just mean "it didn't work", or "it fizzled", to match the French :), with no particular connotation about how close it came to working. But I'm curious what a French person thinks. – Alan O'Donnell Dec 27 '16 at 21:41
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There is a recurring ambiguity around these expressions.

The set expression ne pas faire long feu (to occur quickly) is generally well known. The issue is when people want to negate it.

Ne pas ne pas faire long feu is logically simplified to just faire long feu and expected to mean "to last long, to take a long time to occur". This clashes with the other, less known, set expression identically written faire long feu, which means "to eventually fail to achieve success".

A good example of such a confusion was a reply by a former French Prime Minister (Jean-Marc Ayrault) to a Le Parisien newspaper reader question where faire long feu clearly means to both parties the opposite of ne pas faire long feu:

Marc Ichbia: — Pensez-vous faire long feu à Matignon ?
Jean-Marc Ayrault: Oui, je pense. L'action que je mène au gouvernement ne peut que s'inscrire dans la durée. Ce ne sont pas les yoyos de politique publique qui pourront résoudre les problèmes du pays. Ni en quatre jours que l'on va régler les problèmes.

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    That's a fantastic example! I'm used to seeing the (positive) expression in relatively old books, so I had no idea the negative one was more common. – Alan O'Donnell Dec 28 '16 at 12:48
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The real meaning of "faire long feu" is "to fail". "Ne pas faire long feu", has an unrelated meaning, and means "to not last/stay long": "Je n'ai pas fait long feu à cette soirée". The source above makes it unrelated, but it is possible that people just lost sight of the original meaning (the metal cartridge was invented a couple of centuries ago...).

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