C’est la vie

What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘C’est la vie’?

That’s life. (Or in other words, ‘This is how it is’ or ‘such is life’.)

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘C’est la vie’?

‘C’est la vie,’ pronounced ‘Say la vee’ is originally a French phrase rather than an English one. The literal translation is ‘This is the life’.

The precise origin of the French phrase is not known, but we do know that it came into use in English communications in the late 1880s. 

The phrase is most frequently used as a way of promoting the acceptance of less than ideal circumstances. An alternative English phrase with a similar meaning would be ‘Such is life,’ or ‘That’s just how things go sometimes’ or in some circumstances, ‘Sh*t happens’. Some things are beyond our control after all.

It conveys feeling happy to simply go with the flow, and accepting the bad with the good, because ‘that’s life’.

The phrase is still widely used by the French as well. However, the French don’t always use the phrase in the same way. 

There’s also a Dutch version of the phrase, which goes ‘Het is niet anders,’ which roughly translates to ‘It isn’t different (than it is)’.

What are some notable uses of the phrase ‘C’est la vie’?

The phrase remains in frequent use today, in popular culture, casual conversation, and on memes shared via social media.

It’s the title of a song by the Irish girl band B*Witched, that became a number one hit in the UK for 2 weeks running. It’s an upbeat number that conveys enjoying life whatever it may bring.

There was also a song called ‘C’est la vie’ by Robbie Nevil, that became quite an anthem in 1986, and another of the same title that came out in 1977 from Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The phrase has also featured on television shows, such as ‘The Simpsons’, and the sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’. It comes up in films too, including in ‘Forrest Gump’ in 1994 and in ‘Pulp Fiction’ which came out in the same year.

Trend of c’est la vie in printed material over time

Cari Mayhew - Author at Phrase Finder

Cari Mayhew

Lifelong learner, phrase fanatic, and lover of literature across multiple genres. Cari Mayhew has a passion for expression, and a keen curiosity for how phrases begin and how their use transforms over time. She is often found looking for the ideal idiom to convey her thoughts and musings.