Hand Up or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Never a dull moment when you learn a foreign language. Each day brings its linguistic or cultural surprise. Who would have known that people could say the same thing in two radically different ways?

I didn’t.

Again, literal translations never match proper translations, but they can be entertaining.






Don’t you find it interesting that the French say Hand Up and the Americans Hands Down when the win is easy?


Embed from Getty Images



The French expression Haut la Main originates from the 16th century. Initially the expression was: “To Have the High Hand on Something.” The fact that the hand was raised symbolized the power of authority.

Haut la Main is often used when the French talk about sport.

A match or game is won Haut la Main when the superiority of a team or a player allows a quick victory.

But it will also be said of an easy academic success from a bright student. He or she passed the final exam Haut la Main.

A to Z Challenge

As always, thank you for stopping by, for commenting, and tolerating the unusual frequency of my posts during the month of April.

See you tomorrow.


  1. vous avez réussi ce message / post haut la main 🙂

    • Ha Ha! J’avais prévu “L’Habit ne fait pas le moine” mais hier au soir j’ai pensé que Haut la Main était une expression si typique de la France que j’ai changé d’avis. Merci en tous cas.

  2. In America, I think of Hand Up (hands up) meaning you may be under arrest. 🙂 BTW, I gave a shout out to your blog on my ‘H’ post on FictionZeal.com.

  3. Lovely to see French here, just visiting from a shout out on Diane Coto’s blog, FictionZeal happy blogging.

    • Just checking my blog now and as always find the blogosphere to be a really supportive community. Diane’s shout out makes me afternoon. Thank you for following from her blog to mine. See you hopefully again.

  4. I have always considered “hands down” to be a special kind of win akin to the “easy academic success” you mention. Something with a big margin of victory or an easily vanquished opponent.

    A similar expression in the US is to win “going away.” When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, I often heard the two combined as “we won, hands down, going away” leaving no doubt but that we had won and won big.

    Once again, I’ll add that I am really enjoying this. I’ll probably say that 26 times before you’re done.

    • So glad to add new expressions to my American knowledge. I didn’t know “going away” in this context. Again, I’m not exactly the sport expert! Thank you for bearing with me until the end of the month and glad you are enjoying this series. See you tomorrow for the expression-du-jour.

  5. Sisyphus47 says:

    Interessante cette comparaison entre “haut la main” et “hands down”! 🙂

  6. But we have a high five! And to be high-handed is to be arrogant or self-important. So there are some crossovers.

    • High five has entered France too with the expression “Tapes m’en cinq.” Totally unknown when I lived there. To be high-handed is close to the older French idiom “Avoir la main haute.” There are definitely some crossovers. Thank you for your visit, Marilyn.

  7. Interesting that in French it’s hands up and American it’s hands down – I wonder where hands down came from because it does seem more obvious to hold your hands up when you win 🙂

    • I chose this expression when I realized that we said two different things for the same meaning in French and in English. I agree that it makes more sense to hold your hands up in victory, something that Americans still do. I understand the “Down” as crushing the other team. Could it be? In any case, I appreciate your visits and comments, Andrea.

  8. That is very interesting again Evelyne, I didn’t know this difference! I think of the way it would be said: “They won hands down!”. Yet, it would seem better to say ‘hands up’. Reminds me of the thumbs up and/or down…and what it means in different countries, particularly in Gladiator days 😉

    • It’s interesting, I agree, that both countries can use the up and down to say the same thing. That’s why I love languages. The thumb up is also something we do in France. Now they also do the High Five, something I didn’t do when I lived in France. And yes, in Gladiators days the thumbs certainly played a big role.

      • High Five is a big thing here too Evelyne, but again, never when I grew up here. American expressions are more universal now, for sure 🙂

  9. The French are gaga about them! It’s funny to me while they can also be so anti American sometimes. I suppose that the new technologies being created in the US have a lot to do with that.

  10. Very interesting!! We watched that match!!! 🙂

    • I didn’t! But I found interesting that the choice of words could be so dramatically different to say the same thing. Thank you for stopping by, Christina.

  11. Chouette. J’aimai cette post. Merci.

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