In the famous book Le petit prince, I've read the following sentence:

Alors je tâtonne comme ci et comme ça, tant bien que mal.

And in an English version (translated by Katherine Woods maybe), it writes:

So I fumble along as best I can, now good, now bad, and I hope generally fair−to−middling.

However, "now ~, now ~" means "at this moment ~, at the next ~", which seems not fit the original version of « comme ci et comme ça, tant bien que mal ».

My question is whether there is really such a meaning of « comme ci et comme ça, tant bien que mal » as "now good, now bad".

1 Answer 1


Since, as you acknowledge in the comments, "now good, now bad" is not really about time or specific moments, but just means "as many good moments as bad ones" — or more simply "as often good as it is bad" — I think it's a good match for « tant bien que mal ».

The latter literally means "(doing) well as much as (doing) poorly". But since those states don't typically happen at the same time, it makes more sense to render it "doing well as often as poorly". There's as much of things going well as there is of things going poorly.

Put that way, you can see how close the expression is to "now good, now bad".

(As you can see, I assume the translator reversed the order of the expressions, putting « tant bien que mal » first and « comme ci, comme ça » after, if indeed s/he intended to match them perfectly at all.)

  • Yes. I understand the phrase "now..., now..." means "sometimes..., sometimes...". Shouldn't « comme ci et comme ça » be translated as "neither very good nor very bad"? And « tant bien que mal » be translated as "somehow/more or less"? Do you mean that "fair-to-middling" explains « comme ci et comme ça », while « tant bien que mal » means "now good, now bad"?
    – Mathis
    Apr 25, 2020 at 14:30
  • @Mathis Yup, that's what I mean. After all, "fair-to-middling" is pretty much synonymous with your rendering "neither very good nor very bad". Whereas "tant bien que mal" is literally "as much good as bad".
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 25, 2020 at 15:12
  • I feel that neither “tant bien que mal” nor “comme ci et comme ça” has anything to do with “now good now bad”, and that made me bring up the original question.
    – Mathis
    Apr 25, 2020 at 15:16
  • @Mathis Gotcha, and I would say that "tant bien que mal" is actually a good match for "now good, now bad". That's what I tried to explain (or overexplain, and seemingly not clearly) in this answer. I've rewritten it.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 25, 2020 at 17:45

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