Zero Plus Zero Equals the Head of Toto or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Today marks the end of the series a Month of French Idioms From A to Z.

Through familiar French expressions and their equivalents in American English, I’ve shared for twenty-six days my affection for my two favorite countries on earth.

Languages and cultures may vary from one place to another, but the need for human beings to use metaphors and visuals to express ideas is the same.

The last French idiom du jour illustrates, in my opinion, how language and culture make one and how making them yours can take some time.







La Tête à Toto or The Head of Toto is a school game that was very much part of my French childhood.

It starts with this equation :


This how it works: You write the equation as a drawing and as you draw you recite.






photo(59)LA TÊTE À TOTO


Since Toto’s head equals zero, his intelligence is also zero.

Toto was a popular character in my elementary school culture. There were also many Toto’s jokes.

The equivalent of the French Toto’s jokes would be for me the American “Knock Knock” jokes.


I didn’t find an American equivalent to this unique French idiom/game.

Wherever you live or are from, did you play a similar childish game that was part of your culture?

Since I brought up my children in the USA, I’d love to know if today French kids still play 0+0= la Tête à Toto and if the Toto’s jokes are still around.

Les Français? Est-ce que les enfants jouent toujours à la tête à Toto?


Although daily blogging is not my cup of tea (See? I have a hard to time to stop the flow of idioms!), I am very grateful for your company and have been looking forward to your visits and comments.

I especially thank the bloggers and readers who have stuck with me for the whole month of April.

Your support, your fun and also relevant comments have made this challenge much more interesting.

Bravo to each blogger who made it to the final line of the 2015 race through the alphabet.


See you soon for a Recorded Version of this Series of French idioms!

Fried Whiting Eyes or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

As I wrote the literal translation for the French idiom du jour, I learned the proper name for the fish called “Merlan” in French.

For some reason I tend to mix and match the French and American names for the countless varieties of fish.








Since the end of the 19th century this expression is used to describe the adoring and a little stupid way people in love can sometimes look at each other.

In the 18th century the comparison was made with a carp and not a whiting.

This kind of look was especially used in old silent movies.

I find the English expression a little more accurate than the French one, although the literal translation made me smile.


P.S. The fish above is not a Merlan or a Whiting but a bass, caught (and released) by my son at our Maine cabin last summer.



A to Z Challenge

See you tomorrow!


Bijou, Caillou, Chou, Genou, Hibou, Joujou, Pou: a Twist to a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Unless you know of a French idiom starting with the letter X, I must give a twist to the expression-du-jour.

I owe the idea to my husband. He masters the French language like a French native and finds a solution to any problem like an American. Merci, thank you, for letting me off the hook with this suggestion.


The majority of French nouns mark their plural with the letter S, matching the English most common way. However, like irregular plurals in English, there are some exceptions in French, too.



The most notorious are seven nouns that as a child I learned by heart, in alphabetical order, almost like a short poem.








JOUJOU: TOY (a small toy, or a babyish way to name a toy)



These seven nouns ending with the letters O and U don’t mark their plural with an S but an X: Bijoux, Cailloux, Choux, Genoux, Hiboux, Joujoux, Poux.


Now, I’m asking my French friends:

Do kids still learn them the same way? Les enfants français apprennent-ils encore ces pluriels irréguliers par cœur?


Promise, I’m returning to the French Idioms series tomorrow!


A to Z Challenge


To Put the Wagons Before the Locomotive or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

As soon as I embarked the A to Z Challenge, I knew that I would write about French idioms and their equivalents in American English. I also knew that I would have some trouble with a few letters. With a little bit of help (merci to my husband and to my Wonderful virtual French friend Lectrice en Campagne), I managed to find an expression for every letter of the alphabet.

Including W, even though W is not the first letter of the idiom-du-jour.


Mettre les Wagons Avant la Locomotive

Put the Wagons Before the Locomotive


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I didn’t find a matching idiom in English. But I personally favor another idiom, which was widely used in my native Normandy and has in addition a perfectly good match in English. It is not surprising to me that the French ‘Boeufs’ became a ‘Horse’ in the US.


Mettre la Charrue Avant les Boeufs

To Put the Cart Before the Oxen

To Put the Cart Before the Horse


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Whatever idiom you prefer, both have the exact same meaning: Doing things the wrong way, confusing cause and effect.

It is also common to use these idioms in the negative form as a warning, such as: “Il ne faut pas mettre les wagons avant la locomotive,” Or: “Il ne faut pas mettre la charrue avant les boeufs.”

Your pick!

A to Z Challenge

See you tomorrow!

To Want the Butter and the Money From the Butter or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

I especially like today expression because I learned its English equivalent quite soon after I moved to the States. Although it’s supposed to match the French idiom, it remains to this day a little strange to me. For some reason I never found the English idiom as explicit as the French one.







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Originating from the end of the 19th century, this French expression illustrates how an honest dairy farmer who makes butter cannot take the money from its sale and sell it again.

In its metaphoric way it is used in France to talk of people who want to keep everything for them without leaving anything to others.

The association between Beurre (Butter) and Argent (Money) illustrates also very well how both can melt easily and quickly.


Do you agree or not that the French expression is clearer than its American counterpart?

A to Z Challenge


Have a great weekend and see you on Monday!

To Wear Out the Seat of One’s Pants or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Finding an idiom starting with the letter U presents a challenge, forcing me to pick an old expression du jour.


User ses Fonds de Culotte/User ses Fonds de Culotte sur les Bancs d’une Ecole

To Wear Out the Seat of One’s Pants / To Wear Out the Seat of One’s pants on a School Bench

To Study for Several Years in the Same School




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I’m pretty sure that young French people don’t use this expression anymore. I haven’t said it much myself and have mostly read it. However, it is an interesting idiom for a couple of reasons.


“Culotte” is an old French word for “Pants.”

“Culottes” are also female underwear in France. French women almost always add “petites” before “culottes.” We all know that anything cute and expensive needs the adjective “Little” or “Petit(e).” Think little black dress…

In any case, you can really wear out the seat of your pants or underwear if you remain seated for a long time.

My husband gives an ironic twist to this expression and thinks that it’s attributed to failing students who repeat a year.

I, on the other side, think that the expression is said about students who’ve been to the same school.


“On avait usé nos fonds de culottes sur les mêmes bancs.”

Literally: “We’d wore out the seat of our pants on the same school benches.”

OrWe’d been at school together.”


I’m asking the French people: What do you think?

Qu’en pensez-vous les français?




See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge

To Pull the Devil by the Tail or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Some letters in our alphabet offer more options in terms of expressions than others.  Choosing one for the letter du jour was a challenge.

Ultimately I didn’t go with Sans Tambour Ni Trompette, although it went really well the letter T. Without Drum nor Trumpet is the French version of Without Fanfare. Nice but too similar.


Last week a book at my local library caught my eye.


The title is a very visual English idiom, so I simply looked for its French equivalent, which sounds as visual to my French eye and yet a little more twisted.






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As a child who loved stories I remember how much I learned when I listened to neighbors, merchants, and family members talk with my mother. Sometimes an expression struck my vivid imagination. This particularly visual expression was one of them.

For all French people Tirer le Diable par la Queue is used to illustrate financial difficulties leading to poverty.

One says that a poor person often ends up begging the devil for help, when all other options have been exhausted (and maybe pulling the tail to get the devil’s full attention?).

But according to Claude Duneton, my favorite French author when it comes to expressions and the French language in general, this meaning is fairly recent.

Before the 17th century, Tirer le Diable par la Queue meant to work humbly to make a living. There was no reference to financial stress and poverty.

Why then pulling the devil’s tail? Duneton himself doesn’t provide a definite explanation.

I will leave it that way, too, realizing that popular expressions don’t always need an exact explanation to remain explicit for a large group of people.

A to Z Challenge



See you tomorrow!

To Rub the Board With Soap or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

As I plow my way, letter after letter, through the alphabet and French idioms, I am more and more aware that the French language is packed with such expressions. While I will always consider the English language very strong and capable to produce impeccable sentences and expertly crafted prose, the French language can be very visual, with its frequent use of food, animals, and even objects as metaphors to express a popular idea.

The idiom du jour for the letter S illustrates, in my opinion, this very French skill.






This French expression is based on the metaphor of the “Planche” (Board, Plank) used as a trajectory whose end would be the accomplishment of a specific work.

The area rubbed with soap would make an opponent slip, keeping him away from his goals. The French use also the metaphor of a banana peel for the same meaning.


The photo above doesn’t exactly illustrates the idiom. But I love the scene that represents a French woman of the past at the washhouse, where boards and soap were also used to wash sheets and clothes.


Dit-on toujours autant “Savonner la Planche” en France? Do you know of a similar idiom in English?


See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge








To Roll Someone in Flour or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

The French verb “Rouler” has several meanings. In the idiom du jour “Rouler” means “To Deceive.”







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In addition to “Rouler” there is the “Farine” or “Flour.”

In the older days comedians used flour as facial makeup and would then be unrecognizable from their public. The combo of “Rouler” and “Farine” reinforces the deceiving meaning of the expression.

However, it is common in France to drop the addition of the flour.

You can say, “Je me suis fait rouler,” meaning “I’ve been deceived,” or “Je l’ai roulé,” meaning “I’ve deceived him.”

I know of a few more explicit ways to express the same idea, in both French and English, but if you agree we won’t go there…

However if you know of another interesting idiom that tells of deception, go ahead.


A to Z Challenge

See you tomorrow!




A la Queue Leu Leu or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

One of the nicest experiences during this crazy A to Z challenge is to meet new people and to strenghten the virtual friendships with loyal readers. And sometimes along the way someone gives you a small gift that makes you warm and happy.

My friend Claire writes about books, places, and books that take you places. For the letter P she chose Paris and my novel Trapped in Paris. Talk of a nice Pat on my back.  I encourage anyone who loves picture books, middle grade novels and YA novels to pay Claire a visit. I bet you’ll decide to subscribe to her blog. Her A to Z challenge theme Read Your World With Kids’ Books will take you through a unique and very well researched field trip.

Thank you, Claire!


My French idiom du jour doesn’t have a literal translation but an easy English equivalent.





Mothers who raise their children away from their native land know how complex it can be. I am no exception.

On one hand, I wanted my children to speak fluent English. On the other, I also knew that bilingualism is a terrific asset.

So until my children entered preschool I spoke French and only French at home. And once in a while, a song, a story, and sometimes just an expression hit a chord with my children.

A la Queue Leu Leu became an instant favorite.


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In the French folklore wolves play a large role. These animals travel in pack and often one behind another. It appears that the noun “Leu” in the expression could be an old form for “Loup,” or “Wolf.” The noun “Queue” means “Tail.” So it would make sense that a wolf walking right behind another would also follow its tail.

In any case, despite the old age of this expression, I don’t think “A la Queue Leu Leu” has died yet.

Etes-vous d’accord les français?

Recently my oldest daughter, who is part of an early childhood education program on a college campus in California, told me that her group of three and four-years-old enjoyed French words and songs.

“They love the expression ‘A la Queue Leu Leu’ most,” she said. “So when I want them to stand in single line that’s what I say. Now they even use the expression after recess, when they have to get back in class.”


You never know what your children will remember of your teaching.  Sometimes a simple but fun-sounding expression can leave its mark and transcend linguistic barriers.


A to Z Challenge


See you tomorrow!

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