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The quote by Pierre Dac is as follows.

En justice courante et cavalante, si tous les prévenus l'étaient à temps, le banc des accusés serait souvent vide.

English translation: In current and rushing(?) justice, if all the defendants were on time, the bench of the accused would often be empty.

Source: Pierre Dac, Les Pensées, Éditions Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 1972.

The fact is that I have tried to check French dictionaries, but there is no entry for “cavalante.” There is an entry for the verb “cavaler,” and it is as follows.

Cavaler

  1. (colloquial) to rush about

  2. To be on the run

  3. (obsolete) to bestride

It seems to me that “cavalante” is an adjective in the quotation, but if that is the case, it must not be very common if the French dictionaries do not even list it.

In addition, Google Translate translates “cavalante” as “gallant,” but I have had little luck in verifying this. Moreover, “gallant” is normally translated as “brave,” “courageux,” “élégant,” “galant,” “héroïque,” “preux,” “vaillant,” “valeureux,” and so on, isn’t that right?

If someone can explain what “cavalante” means in the context of the quote or otherwise, I would greatly appreciate it.

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This is a humorous line. Cavaler is a synonym of courir (think cavalier, there's a root) and can mean "to rush" or "to hurry." It can also mean "to escape" as you found in "to be on the run". The latter lends itself to "hurried and/or escaping" in this sarcastic quip, a participle or adjective in English but a present participle form as an adjective in French.

The noun prévenu in the context of the courts gives an especially humorous play on words because as an adjective, it means "warned." They just didn't get the warning in time.

So... if only the defendants could just get the warning signal in time, they'd never get caught.

I tried to give a similarly witty translation, but my word play isn't quite there:

"What with modern law so fluid and fleeting, if only the defendants could either run on time or had just run off in time, the bench* would be pretty empty of accused parties on trial."

Here's a supportive definition from Larousse :

Populaire

  1. Courir ou fuir : Les bandits cavalaient sous le tir des policiers. Synonymes :

décamper (familier) - détaler

  1. Courir, se dépêcher de faire : J'ai cavalé dans tout Paris pour trouver tes cigares.

*Legal jargon, "dock" is primarily BrE

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    Thank you very much for your answer! “Cavalante” had me stumped. I knew that Pierre Dac was a humourist, but I had no idea that the quote was meant to be sarcastic. Jan 22, 2023 at 14:27
  • Many -ant endings come from verbs, so you were right on to try the infinitive (verb) when you couldn't find the adjective. I tried to give a "witty" translation but it relies on prévenu word play more than anything else. Don't say I didn't warn you : )
    – livresque
    Jan 25, 2023 at 1:05
  • ...if all indicted had been foretold, a great many ships would have left the dock ;-) Jan 25, 2023 at 1:41

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