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









  1. I can’t think of a single English expression for that!
    The only thing I can think of that even comes close is to throw someone a curve ball.

    • Thank you for trying, Joey. As I go on with this idiom thingy, I realize that it is sometimes impossible to find an equivalent. My initial purpose was to have fun with literal translation. Finding the proper English idiom whenever possible is definitely adding to the challenge.
      See you later on your blog!

  2. Hmmm, I can’t think of a good expression for this. I’ve been accused of “making matters worse” when trying to help, or to complicate someone’s job, but your expression sounds as if there’s an element of intent. My father had some choice expressions for that, but I think we agreed to leave those out of the mix. I’m continuing to enjoy this series Evelyne.

    • There is a definite element of intent in the French idiom. Savonner la Planche is never nice. My own father had also some interesting expressions, Dan, but you’re right: We’ll just remember them with affection. Glad you are not getting too tired of this long series.

  3. Sisyphus47 says:

    Et voilà: une expression que je ne connaissais pas, ou peut-être oubliée? 🙂 Et pas plus pour un équivalent en english!

    • Vous etes quelqu’un de bien si vous n’avez jamais savonné la planche a personne! Et tant mieux pour vous si personne ne vous l’a savonnée non plus. En anglais, il semble que personne ne puisse rien suggérer. En tous cas merci de suivre cette série. A plus tard.

  4. Enjoying learning about French idioms. Great way to share across cultures.

  5. Merci, Evelyne. Enjoying (and learning from) your French expressions. This is always the most fun aspect of languages. Ha! No English equivalent that i know of, although we do have a plank expression from pirate times, when we tell someone to ‘walk the plank’, it means to get rid of someone.

    • Ah this is a pretty good one, too, Kimberly. Thank you for visiting me and encouraging me. I’ve always loved idioms in both French and English. We learn them at an early age and it is too bad that most language teaching doesn’t include them. I would have enjoyed that and it would have spared me some mistakes. Although it is maybe because of my mistakes that I enjoy them even more!

  6. The only thing I can think of that’s close is “to put a foot out” to trip someone. There are a lot of ways to say it, but no special idiomatic phrases I can think of offhand.

    • We also have a smilar one but it isn’t to trip someone in a figurative way. Faire un croche-pied is done with the purpose to trip someone. Savonner la planche is on purpose too, but it’s not physical. I really appreciate your support with this series, Marilyn.

  7. I am so enjoying this series from you. Informative and funny.

    • I’m so glad you are having fun and also finding some interesting material. That was my goal with this series. Thank you for stopping by. Hope to see you again.

  8. The only thing I can think of is to “under cut” someone, to “pull the rug out from under” someone and therefore make him/her fall. Just heard one today on a show we are watching, “Ne Tirer pas la corde” as in, don’t push me, don’t push your luck… Loving these “French” lessons! Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @

    • To pull the rig out from under is a great one. I think it’s pretty close to the French one, actually. You know what? I didn’t know Ne Tirer Pas la Corde! I knew Ne Tirez Pas sur l’Ambulance! 😊

  9. Lisa got here first with what I was thinking of. I like the idea of your theme very much. I took four years of French in a small Texas High School. Not enough students did. So, upon graduation, my verbal French was stuck at 1st year level. For my 4th year, I translated a French history book into English. Upon graduation, I could read French almost as easily as English. But, I’ve not had an opportunity to use that skill since my 2nd job in the 1980’s, and my skills are almost non-existent now.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps’ Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge

  10. Yes, to pull the rug from under is very similar, though not as evocative as the French version!

    • The French are pretty good at these metaphoric expressions! But the rug pulled from under the feet is pretty clear too. Thank you, Andrea, for your time and support.

  11. I would say to ‘rub someone up the wrong way’ if you talk about upsetting someone or making things difficult for them. Similar, maybe…

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