Cherchez la femme

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Cherchez la femme (French: [ʃɛʁʃe la fam]) is a French phrase which literally means 'look for the woman'.

Cherchez la femme in The Mohicans of Paris[edit]

The expression comes from the novel The Mohicans of Paris (Les Mohicans de Paris) published 1854–1859 by Alexandre Dumas (père).[1] The first use in the novel reads:

Cherchez la femme, pardieu! cherchez la femme![2]

In English:

Look for the woman, by God! Look for the woman!

The phrase is repeated several times in the novel. Dumas also used the phrase in his 1864 theatrical adaptation, which reads:

Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires; aussitôt qu'on me fait un rapport, je dis: « Cherchez la femme ! »[3]

Translated into English this reads:

There is a woman in every case; as soon as someone brings me a report, I say, 'Look for the woman!'

The phrase embodies a cliché of detective pulp fiction: no matter what the problem, a woman is often the root cause. The phrase has thus come to refer to explanations that automatically find the same root cause, no matter the specifics of the problem. In his 1963 detective novel The Chill, Ross Macdonald's sleuth Lew Archer offers a wry analysis of the concept, stating: "When a woman is murdered, you ask her estranged husband where he was at the time. It's the corollary of cherchez la femme."[4]

In popular culture[edit]


In the 1931 film The Front Page, the security guard called "Woodenshoes" (Spencer Charters), is convinced that Molly Malloy (Mae Clark) is hiding escaped prisoner, Earl Williams (George E. Stone). He keeps trying to tell everyone while repeatedly adding, "cherchez la femme!"

In the 1936 film My Man Godfrey, Gail Patrick's character Cornelia Bullock complains about her little sister and Mischa Auer as Carlo replies, "As the French say, cherchez la femme."

In the beginning of the film Gold Diggers of 1937, Glenda Farrell says to the other chorus girls, "Girls, from now on, you're looking at a new Genevieve. A gal who starts with that old Mountie slogan, "Get your man." To which Joan Blondell replies, "And ends with the old police slogan, 'cherchez la femme.'"

The phrase is employed in the 1942 film Tales of Manhattan. In the mock trial of Avery L. 'Larry' Browne (Edward G. Robinson's character), the inebriated classmate interjects "cherchez la femme". It also appears in the film Dr. No (1962).

The phrase appears in the 1958 film The Quiet American starring Michael Redgrave.[time needed]

The phrase appears in the film Carry On Doctor (1967), where Fred (Julian Orchard) uses it in a more literal sense, simply referring to looking for a woman who Ken (Bernard Bresslaw) has seen and taken a fancy to.

In the Albanian film Kapedani (eng. Captain) produced in 1972, actor Dario Llukaci acting as a taxi driver, says cherchez la femme, meaning 'woman is the reason behind the quarrel'.

This phrase is utilized in Chinatown (1974) by Mrs Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in response to JJ Gittes's (Jack Nicholson) reason for leaving the police force. "Cherchez la femme. Was there a woman involved?"

In the 1978 Beatles parody film All You Need Is Cash (aka The Rutles), Mick Jagger is interviewed by Eric Idle, who asks, "Why did the Rutles break up?" Mick replies, "Women. Just women getting in the way. Cherchez la femme, you know."

The phrase occurs in the film Hopscotch in 1980 as Walter Matthau explains to a guy why he needs 500 dollars.

The phrase is used by Maggie Smith's character Daphne Castle[5] to Peter Ustinov's character Hercule Poirot in the 1982 film Evil Under the Sun, based on the novel by Agatha Christie, as they investigate the murder of Dianna Rigg's character Arlena Marshall.

In Frantic (1988), Harrison Ford's character Dr. Richard Wagner is talking to another doctor at "The Blue Parrot".

It also appears in the film Mallrats (1995) when Brodie, played by Jason Lee, spots his love interest, Rene, played by Shannen Doherty shopping in the mall.


The big band and swing-influenced disco band, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, had a number one U.S. dance hit, "Cherchez La Femme" (1976).

Ghostface Killah's song "Cherchez La Ghost" (2000) samples the Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band and interpolates the phrase.

The phrase is used by American rock musician Brendan Benson in the song "Biggest Fan" from The Alternative to Love

Joni Mitchell's song "Dancin' Clown", from 1988's Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, contains the phrase. An album note for the song on [6] lists several artists as the "Cherchez la femme chorus".


The phrase appears in the novel Bluebeard (1987) by Kurt Vonnegut.

Salman Rushdie's novel "Shalimar the Clown" (2005) uses the phrase in its final section, Kashmira.

The 1987 James Ellroy novel The Black Dahlia features the line as a motif throughout, first spoken by Officer Lee Blanchard to the main detective, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, as a piece of advice. "Cherchez la femme, Bucky. Remember that." The line is repeated by Bucky's character throughout, and connects with its use in the rest of the genre.

The phrase also appears in the thirty-first book in the In Death series, strangers in death, written by J.D. Robb (pen name for Nora Roberts). it was spoken by Detective Delia Peabody to Lieutenant Eve Dallas, then from Lieutenant Eve Dallas to Detective Baxter

Short stories[edit]

The phrase appears in the science-fiction short story "The Flowered Thundermug" by Alfred Bester. The phrase is spoken by a female character, alternatively named Violet Dugan/Audrey Hepburn. She is trying to hunt down a man who has, like herself, been transported five hundred years into a post-apocalyptic future by a freak accident. This man is the one who has stolen the "flowered thundermug," now considered a twentieth-century Americana antique, but originating from his own time period. Possibly he has a female interest that could provide a lead to his whereabouts.

Comic strip[edit]

Churchill "Churchy" LaFemme was the name of Pogo's turtle friend in Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo.

TV series[edit]

The phrase appears in the episode Rin Tin Tin and the Wild Stallion of the American children's television program The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

The phrase is said by Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) in the Northern Exposure episode "Only You" while talking to Chris Stevens (John Corbett (actor)).

In The West Wing Season 5, Episode 5, CJ Cregg makes the remark when talking about an old flame named Ben.

In In the Heat of the Night Season 4, Episode 6 (1990) Officer Parker Williams oddly makes the remark to Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs about a case.

In the TV series La Femme Nikita (1997–2001) the theme music contains the lyrics "Cherchez la femme, cherchez la femme, dans la nuit, dans la nuit".[7]

In the TV series Witchblade (2001-2002) episode 3, "Conundrum," Nottingham tells Sara "Cherchez la femme," to lead her to the killer she is seeking. Later he tells her "Cherchez la Jeune fille " (Find the young girl) referencing the next potential victim.[8]

In The Simpsons episode "Viva Ned Flanders," Homer Simpson disparagingly refers to the very Christian Ned Flanders as ″Churchy La Femme″.[9]

In the TV series Perry Mason, "The Case of the Married Moonlighter" (first aired November 1958), actor Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg uses the phrase as he informs Perry Mason that a prospective witness suggested that for the real murderer.

In the New Year's Day edition of Sherlock, Series 4, Episode 0, "The Abominable Bride," (aired on BBC1,1 January 2016) the phrase was used by Holmes' brother Mycroft when Sherlock asks for assistance to dig up the corpse of Emelia Ricoletti. A parody of the phrase is also used in the Series 2, Episode 2, "The Hounds of Baskerville," where Sherlock states, "Cherchez le chien."

In the TV series iZombie, in a first-season episode, a famous painter who was having an extramarital affair is murdered, and the main character is appalled when the police detective she works with says he automatically assumes the painter's wife is the prime suspect. He counters that in his professional experience, when a homicide victim was having an affair, nine times out of ten the murderer has in fact been the jealous wife - it is simply an example of Occam's Razor. He does then add, however, that in all fairness exactly the same ratio is true for wives having extramarital affairs, whose murderers are usually their husbands. By the end of the episode, it is revealed that the painter was in fact murdered by his jealous wife.

In the NCIS Season 11, Episode 12, titled "Kill Chain", Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) uttered the phrase to Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), as the latter departed Autopsy. The body "Ducky" was examining had traces of Shalimar, a very expensive perfume.

In Transporter: The Series (2012), the phrase is used as the title of Season 1, Episode 12, which was the season finale.

In the TV detective series Mannix, (12/09/73, E12), reference to the phrase is made by the police lieutenant when Mannix reports being assaulted after arriving at the airport. Mannix mentions a woman he met previously who met him at the airport, then disappeared. The lieutenant looks up the woman's reported name in a phone book, and hands it to Mannix.

In the mini-series I Am the Night, (2019, E2), when reporter Jay Singletary, (Chris Pine), is told by his informant to "find the woman" that spent time at a convent and ultimately gave birth to (Fauna Hodel), the subject of his story.

The TV series Killjoys the title of episode 7 of season 5 is “Cherchez La Bitch”, a play on words of the phrase. It is apparently intended to recall the use of the phrase, while emphasizing the tough nature of the key characters in the episode, all of whom are women. It likely also involves some level of inside joke to both the fan base and the production crew, based on the prior run of the series and the proximity of the finale. Another layer is that they are looking for the true body of "the lady."


  • Cherchez La Femme is the name of a traveling Australian feminist activist media site based in Melbourne. It holds popular events in Melba Spiegeltent and has toured five states of Australia so far.[10]
  • "Cherchez La Femme" is a female character perk in Fallout: New Vegas allowing female player characters a bonus in damage against female targets, as well as bonus dialogue options, most dialogue hinting at a same-sex attraction.
  • "Cherchez La Femme" is a line spoken by the Overwatch character named Widowmaker, who hails from France and is a sniper.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pierre L. Horn, ed., Handbook of French Popular Culture (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1991), ISBN 978-0313261213, p. 41. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  2. ^ Dumas, Alexandre (1871). Les Mohicans de Paris (in French). I. Paris: Michel Lévy frères, éditeurs. p. 232. Retrieved 2009-08-07. Cherchez la femme, pardieu ! cherchez la femme !
  3. ^ Dumas, Alexandre (1889). Théâtre complet (in French). XXIV. Paris: Michel Lévy frères, éditeurs. p. 103. Retrieved 2009-08-07. Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires; aussitôt qu'on me fait un rapport, je dis: « Cherchez la femme ! »
  4. ^ Macdonald, Ross (1963), The Chill, p 175 of Vintage Books reissue edition ISBN 0679768076
  5. ^ "Daphne Castle (Character)". IMDb.
  6. ^ "Discography".
  7. ^ "The Music FAQ".
  8. ^ "Whoosh! Episode Guide: WITCHBLADE: CONUNDRUM (W02/102)".
  9. ^ "The Simpsons s10e10 Episode Script - SS". Springfield! Springfield!.
  10. ^ Hoang, Davis. "Cherchez la Femme".

External links[edit]