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A flimsy excuse if ever I heard one.

The other day, I was explaining the meaning of "if ever I heard one" to my colleague, a native French speaker. The phrase, if rather literally translated, seems to mean:

Voilà une piètre excuse, si tant est qu'il y en ait une.

... but this French expression is premised on the assumption that it is unlikely, if not impossible, that such a thing as "a flimsy excuse" exists in the first place — which is an illogical notion, if ever there was one!

The English phrase "if ever I heard one", on the other hand, is more like hyperbole, singling out this particular excuse as the most flimsy one imaginable among all others.

So I explained that one of the closest translations would be:

Voilà une piètre excuse, s'il en est.

But I'm not completely sure about all of this. I wonder if "si tant est qu'il y en ait une" works as well, after all?

  • The tone is indeed the thing to capture here! It's intentionally funny, poking fun at the overly serious wording it might have been given by a police officer or detective on an old TV show. – Luke Sawczak Oct 27 '17 at 14:11
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First, I agree that in English it is "hyperbole, singling out this particular excuse as the most flimsy one imaginable among all others," so the simplest way to express this in French might be to just spit it out bluntly (hyperbole or not) with:

Voilà/Ça c'est/Ça doit être/ la plus piètre excuse que j'ai jamais entendue.

I think you could also express this in French without the hyperbole by simply using some emphasis:

Ça c'est une piètre excuse! ...

... to which you could perhaps add "ou je ne m'y connais pas" (from languefrancaise.net) to try to better match the English contruction:

Ça c'est/Voilà/ une piètre excuse ou je ne m'y connais pas.

Finally I think you could even get some ideas for this question from the comments and answer to your question about how to say-"if it isnt x then what is it?"

  • I do like your 3rd suggestion. :) In my experience, I seem to recall that "ça" indeed tends to come before "c'est" for emphasis when "... ou je ne m'y connais pas" is used. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 27 '17 at 15:59
  • Hi. Come to think of it, "si tant est qu'il y en ait une" vs "if ever there was one" may be another of those rare instances where a literally translated equivalent seems deceptively valid: french.stackexchange.com/questions/27644/… – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 28 '17 at 21:45
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I wonder if "si tant est qu'il y en ait une" works as well

No! You were totally right in noting this point to the uncertainess of its existence. The meaning is totally different. Your

Voilà une piètre excuse, s'il en est.

is the best translation for me.

  • Hi. The context in which I use "si tant est ..." is something like: « L'amour inconditionnel, si tant est qu'il y en ait un, est justement ce qu’elle lui demande ! » – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 27 '17 at 14:47
  • In your case, I would just say : L'amour inconditionnel, s'il existe seulement, est justement ce qu’elle lui demande !. – Zenoo Oct 27 '17 at 15:12
  • @Zenoo Hi. This is the first time I've heard of the expression "s'il existe seulement". Is it commonly used? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 27 '17 at 15:44
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    @Alone-zee “S'il existe seulement” idiomatic, but not very common. People wouldn't use it in everyday conversation, but it would be natural in a philosophical text. “Si tant est qu'il existe” is a bit less highbrow, it would be natural in e.g. a newspaper article. – Gilles Oct 27 '17 at 21:05
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To retain the hyperbole idea, you could use:

C'est sans (aucune / l'ombre d'une) comparaison, la plus piètre excuse qu'il soit.

or “que je n'ai jamais entendue” in a more casual register.

  • Je dirais plutôt la plus piètre excuse qui soit – chqrlie Oct 30 '17 at 22:58

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