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


  1. I like this expression. Two thoughts come to mind, one of which I’m going to save for a blog entry (but I’ll credit you with the inspiration). The second is off on a tangent from what I think this expression means, maybe, in that it’s a little negative. I once worked for a man who was fond of saying “I maintain an open-door policy, but don’t feel compelled to wear a hole in the mat.”

    • As always you bring interesting comments to the table, Dan. I find the expression of the guy you worked for pretty visual and explicit!
      I’m intrigued by the beginning of your comment and curious to read your post in a near future. Only five letters to go, but not the easiest ones!

  2. Great expression – this will get me up and moving more often!! When I was in junior high (now called middle school) girls were required to wear skirts or dresses (that were at least knee-length). Culottes had just come into fashion and raised quite a dilemma for school administrators as to whether they would be acceptable as skirts or were prohibited as pants. Finally girls were allowed to wear them (since boys obviously weren’t going to) and I had a gorgeous spring-pink pair that I wore often. I loved those culottes!!

    • You know, when I considered this idiom, everything I read and remember was linked to boys in school. The “Culottes” were the French word for “Shorts,” that boys wore before they switched to long pants. I added the mention of female underwear because girls matter and went to school too! I wore pants at school but only a few years before I started middle school girls weren’t allowed unless they had a skirt or dress on top. Great!
      What you call Culottes were called Jupes Culottes, Jupes being the word for Skirts.
      I am almost at the end of this challenge and want to thank you for your support, Sammy.

  3. Sisyphus47 says:

    Cette expression était encore bien usitée dans mon enfance, avec, je crois, le sens de rester longtemps à la même place. A propos de “culotte”, c’était, sous l’ancien régime, le nom des chausses courtes (jusqu’au genou) des aristocrates. Ainsi les “sans culottes” révolutionnaires étaient les autres, qui portaient des pantalons! On y arrive! 🙂

  4. Hmmm. Sometimes I feel like I wear out the seat of my pants in my writing chair. On the other hand, aren’t you expected to pay ten times as much now days for a pair of pants with a worn seat? –Curt

  5. We have an expression “to (do something) by the seat of your pants” which means to do something without planning — sometimes without education or foreknowledge. Very different meanings for similar expressions.

  6. It’s true that anyone who writes truly use ses fonds de culotte. That’s why I often type and write standing up at the kitchen counter or lying on the sofa in the sunroom! 😊
    If I don’t, then I get the must-have ripped jeans. For free.
    See you, Curt.

  7. I was intrigued by the comment that culotte was an old French word. France-French and Quebec-French have evolved differently over the years and I was curious if this word was an example of that.
    Culotte is a word I’ve heard my mother-in-law say with some frequency but my husband just confirmed that only the (much) older generation still tend to use that word in Quebec.
    Thanks – an interesting post. You just added to my very meagre french 😉

    • So nice to hear a voice from Quebec, a Canadian province that I like very much, for the reasons you can guess! I love to hear people from rural Quebec speak, as they remind me of the French I heard from elderly people in Normandy where I grew up but also of the American language. Such a rich way of speaking! As for the culottes, yes, I confirm that it is an old French word. Except as I write above for the “petites culottes,” the French female underwear. Hope to see you again, Joanne.

  8. I remember wearing cullotes as a child which I remember as a split skirt – very appropriate when playing on the bars or swinging on the playground. I think I’ve been wearing out my pants sitting in this chair during the A to Z blog challenge.

    • We also had those although earlier than my time. I remember older girls wearing them. We called them “Jupes (skirts) culottes. Ha ha! I try to stand up when I write. It’s Hewingway who gave me the idea! He was so vain that he didn’t want to flatten his derriere! Thank you, Claire, for your support this month.

  9. I really love the word “cullotes” and don’t know why. But it sounds prettier than “underwear” or “panties” to me. Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @


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