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.

 

SAVONNER LA PLANCHE (A QUELQU’UN)

TO RUB THE BOARD WITH SOAP (AGAINST SOMEONE)

TO MAKE LIFE DIFFICULT FOR SOMEBODY

 

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!

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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.”

 

ROULER QUELQU’UN DANS LA FARINE

TO ROLL SOMEOME IN FLOUR

PULL THE WOOL OVER SOMEONE’S EYES

 

 

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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.

 

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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!

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

 

A LA QUEUE LEU LEU

IN SINGLE LINE OR QUEUE

 

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.

 

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See you tomorrow!

To Set a Rabbit Down or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

This journey through the alphabet is a fun way to show how expressions don’t always have an equivalent when translated, and also to illustrate how literal translations always sound awkward.

 

POSER UN LAPIN

TO SET A RABBIT DOWN

TO STAND SOMEBODY UP

 

bunny

The expression, dating from the late 19th century, was first used when someone didn’t pay for a service or a favor. Over the years it lost this initial meaning. Poser un lapin is now simply used when someone doesn’t respect a prior engagement and doesn’t show up at an appointment, leaving you waiting for nothing.

 

A note about appointment: There is only one word in French for Appointment and this is Rendez-vous (hyphenated).

The French call to book a rendez-vous with their dentist, physician, hair stylist, their children’s teachers, friends, and special ones.

 

Returning to “Poser un Lapin”, do you know of a better way to say “Stand Somebody Up” in English?

Et vous les français, est-ce qu’une nouvelle expression a remplacé celle ci?

 

 

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See you tomorrow!

To Remove a Thorn From Somebody’s Foot or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

The English equivalent of the French idiom of the jour can also be said in French.

 

ôter une épine du pied.

To remove a thorn from somebody’s foot

To take a weight off somebody’s shoulders

 

However I like the one I picked best. We all know how painful it is to get a thorn stuck under the skin. Often we need in fact someone’s help to pull it out.

 

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This French expression originates from the 15th century, when the noun “thorn” meant also “difficulty” and by extension an embarrassing and painful situation.

 

Wherever you live, whatever language you speak, do you know of a similar expression?

 

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See you tomorrow!

 

 

 

Drown the Fish or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

 

It’s always fun for me when expressions in French and English have something in common. Like today.

 

NOYER LE POISSON

DROWN THE FISH

DUCK THE ISSUE

 

I’ve heard and said this French idiom countless times without even thinking twice that the metaphor is strange. Isn’t it impossible to drown a fish?

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The English version is using a duck and not a fish as a metaphor. I figure that fish and duck swimming sometimes through murky waters can suggest confusion.

Noyer le poisson or duck the issue pursue the same goal anyway: Creating confusion to avoid facing a problem or having a frank discussion about a delicate topic. Noyer (To Drown) is in fact one of the French verbs that’s used when too many details are provided to describe a situation, often when people are embarrassed to talk about this specific situation or need to hide an element they don’t want to share.

Bamboozle is the English verb that comes to my mind when I think of confusion. I discovered the meaning of this strange-sounding verb through Bamboozled, a picture book that my oldest daughter adored when she was a preschooler. Her siblings have loved it as much.

Would Bamboozle be a good equivalent to the French verb Noyer, in its figurative meaning?

 

P.S. The fish on the photo was caught (and released) by my son a couple of summers ago in Maine.

 

See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge

 

 

Half-Fig Half-Grape or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Like a menu the French idiom-du-jour is all about food.

 

MI-FIGUE MI-RAISIN

HALF-FIG HALF-GRAPE

HALF IN EARNEST HALF IN JEST  (more British than American, right?)

Ambiguous and Mixed come to my mind as well as one of my favorite adjectives: “Bittersweet.” What do you think?

 

 

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One said that during Lent people ate figs and grapes, favoring the latest to the former. One also said that the Corinthian merchants added figs to the raisins they sold, probably to increase their profit. In any case, French people say, “Mi-Figue Mi-Raisin” when they want to express ambiguous feelings about someone or something.

A quick but important note: The French say Raisins for Grapes and Raisins Secs (dried grapes) for Raisins.

 

Thirteen more letters to go! Thank you for keeping up with me with the second half of the alphabet, more challenging than the first.

See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge

To Lick the Shop Windows or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Literal translation was my way of life when I arrived in the States, leading to interesting conversations.

The day I told a new acquaintance that I would love to accompany her to the mall but that I would probably only lick the shop windows, she glanced at me in a puzzled and slightly worried way.

 

Faire du Léche Vitrine/Lécher les Vitrines

To Lick the Shop Windows

To Do Some Window-Shopping

 

 

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The French verb Lécher means to Lick but can also carry the notions of admiration and pleasure. For example, a polished work, especially artistic, will be léché in French. So it makes sense (at least to me and the French!) that lécher the shop windows, while admiring clothes, shoes, or anything in display, is the right expression to illustrate this leisurely pleasant activity.

Hands-on experiences present some challenges and mistakes can be embarrassing, yet they remain, in my opinion, the best it not only ways to learn.

Thanks to an invitation to the mall, I learned that Americans do window-shopping while the French lick the shop windows.

 

I’ll meet you halfway through the alphabet, bright and early tomorrow!

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Kif-Kif or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Today I am at loss and there are still fifteen letters to go!

I can’t find a literal English translation to this short and popular French expression. The English equivalent I offer is correct, although I’d love for you to help me find a smarter one, if it does exist.

The ties between North Africa and France sadly go back to the times of colonization. But with bad things come good things. Among them the great North African cuisine that plays a big part in the French culture. Anyone who ever ate a real couscous, a méchoui (lamb slowly cooked above an open fire pit) or the North African pastries that go so well with mint tea knows what I’m talking about.

In addition to cuisine, a few expressions have slipped from one culture to another.

 

KIF-KIF

IT’S ALL THE SAME

IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE

 

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This expression comes from the Arab word Kif, which means Similar. Kif-Kif comes with a few variants but this one is the most widely used in France. Qu’en dites vous les français?

We say “Kif-Kif” in French when there are two ways to do something, two ways to go somewhere, when one approach to a problem or another won’t make any difference.

My husband and I sometimes use different routes to drive somewhere. Think Google maps versus a car GPS. If both routes are equivalent in terms of distance and time spent behind the wheel, we can agree that the two itineraries are Kif-Kif.

And if I had to pick between the two lillies above and decide which one is the prettiest, I would say, “C’est kif-kif.”

 

See you tomorrow for the letter du jour!

To Throw Flowers or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

When I moved to the US, I immediately noticed that there were far less flower shops than in France and that American people I invited for dinner always volunteered to bring an appetizer or dessert, something that is rarely done in France, except with family members or close friends. On the other hand, French people always bring a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine, often both, when invited over, something less systematic from American people, at least in the early 1990s. So again, this is natural that one of the most popular French idiomatic expressions has a floral connotation.

 

JETER DES FLEURS (À QUELQU’UN OU À SOI MÊME)

TO THROW FLOWERS (TO SOMEONE OR TO ONESELF)

TO SHOWER (SOMEONE OR ONESELF) WITH COMPLIMENTS

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The expression Jeter des Fleurs has evolved from Tresser des Couronnes (To Braid a Wreath), originating from the 11th century. Wreaths made out of leaves and flowers symbolized dignity. By extension, offering such a wreath to someone would express a compliment. French people still use the older expression Tresser des Couronnes, although I think that Jeter des Fleurs is more widely said. Qu’en pensez-vous les français?

Jeter des Fleurs can also mean to brag if you “Throw Flowers to Yourself.”

For example, you can say “Je me jette des fleurs” if you are especially proud of one of your accomplishments.

You could also say, “Sans me jeter des fleurs,” which literally means, “Without throwing flowers to myself,” or “Ce n’est pas pour me jeter des fleurs,” which means, “It’s not to throw flowers to myself.”

These sentences appear to express humility, while in fact they shout self-satisfaction. A “but…” or “still,” are implied, reinforcing the complacency feeling.

Using a negation is frequent in French when we want to increase the meaning of a sentence.

My American-born children have a hard time to understand why the French say no when they mean yes. Some linguistic tricks are hard to explain when you’ve learned them at a young age.

 

Sixteen more letters to go! Thank you for keeping me company. See you tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

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