Idioms

Jus de chaussette

December 17, 2013

Why is weak coffee called "jus de chaussette" in French?

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Posted by céline on December 17, 2013 | Comments (1)
Idioms

Damp squib

December 2, 2011

Damp squib v Damp squid: an example of misquoted phrases.

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Posted by céline on December 2, 2011
Idioms

Potiche

June 20, 2011

Translating the word potiche: a real challenge

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Posted by céline on June 20, 2011
Idioms

Douche écossaise

June 3, 2011

Explanation of the French expression "Douche écossaise"

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Posted by céline on June 3, 2011
Idioms

Be-all and end-all

June 25, 2010

The origins of the expression be-all and end-all and folk etymology

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Posted by céline on June 25, 2010
Idioms

The barrel of the Danaids

September 8, 2009

I was listening to my daily On refait le monde podcast when one of the journalists referred to the barrel of the Danaids. This is what he said: Une taxe, c’est quelque chose qu’on nous prend et qu’on nous...

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Posted by céline on September 8, 2009
Idioms

Bone of contention

August 28, 2009

Why a picture of apples on an entry dedicated to the expression "Bone of contention", you wonder? Well, that is the beauty of translation: you start with a bone and end up with an apple. Let me explain. I...

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Posted by céline on August 28, 2009
Idioms, Technical corner

All mouth and trousers

August 9, 2009

How I love being right. The other day, two of my Northern coworkers were politely but skeptically listening to me telling them that “All mouth and no trousers” is a Southern corruption of the original Northern expression “All mouth and...

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Posted by céline on August 9, 2009
Idioms

Put the kibosh on something

July 6, 2009

“This could put the kibosh on our plan,” my friend Paul wrote during an instant message conversation. I had never come across this expression and “kibosh” reminded me of “shibboleth”, so I immediately assumed it was of Jewish origin. Wrong!...

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Posted by céline on July 6, 2009
Idioms

Beyond the pale

June 17, 2009

Here, "pale" isn’t the adjective derived from O.Fr. paile, from L. pallidus "pale, pallid", but the noun that comes from L. palus "stake," related to pangere "to fix or fasten". The Phrase Finder explains that Catherine the Great created a...

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Posted by céline on June 17, 2009
Idioms

Millefeuille administratif

March 30, 2009

Who says administrative jargon has to be boring? I heard a delicious expression on RTL describing the Kafkaesque series of government layers in France, with its régions, départements, cantons, communes etc. etc. : the millefeuille administratif. It almost makes...

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Posted by céline on March 30, 2009
Idioms

Trier sur le volet

December 1, 2008

I just had to translate "our staff are handpicked" and the expression triés sur le volet (literally, "sorted on the shutter") immediately came to mind. Where does it come from? Expressio tells us that In the Middle Ages, a "volet"...

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Posted by céline on December 1, 2008
Idioms

To be damned with faint praise

August 15, 2008

After our game on Wednesday: "You had an excellent second half, Alison." "Hm. Great. Do you know the expression 'to be damned with faint praise'?" I do and strongly deny that my compliment was in any way tainted by implied...

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Posted by céline on August 15, 2008
Idioms

Misery loves company

January 3, 2008

Do you know if a French equivalent exists for this expression? In general, idioms being the expression of popular wisdom, whose roots are shared by most European countries (the Bible, Greek and Latin literature), most English proverbs have French equivalents,...

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Posted by céline on January 3, 2008
Idioms

Swings and roundabouts

November 9, 2007

Read in today’s Guardian: Once again, Michael Jackson's happiness is tinged with pain, as his triumphant return to a magazine coverspot is set in counterpoint to news that a mortgage company is on the point of repossessing his Neverland...

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Posted by céline on November 9, 2007
Idioms

Halcyon days

October 19, 2007

A period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful. The halcyon is a mythical bird said by ancient writers to breed in a nest floating at sea at the winter solstice, charming the wind and...

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Posted by céline on October 19, 2007
Idioms

Bon viveur

October 3, 2007

Read in yesterday’s Guardian: Ned Sherrin, wit, impresario, bon viveur and Radio 4 Stalwart, dies at 76. The Compact Oxford English dictionary tells us that bon viveur is another term for bon vivant. — ORIGIN pseudo-French, from French bon ‘good’...

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Posted by céline on October 3, 2007
Idioms

Til the cows come home

August 22, 2007

Relatively modern amplifications of this one include "till the cows come home in the morning" and "till hell freezes over and the cows come skating home over the ice". The expression has meant "a long, long time" for a...

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Posted by céline on August 22, 2007
Idioms

Poser un lapin

August 20, 2007

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Posted by céline on August 20, 2007
Idioms

The lion's share

July 13, 2007

The UK currently accounts for the lion’s share of web budgets This sentence led me to look up the origin of the expression "the lion’s share". It means to take everything, to not share at all, although I’ve heard...

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Posted by céline on July 13, 2007
Idioms

Être la lanterne rouge

July 4, 2007

The Tour de France is starting in London this weekend. The Guardian has produced a booklet giving all sorts of information about it, including a short glossary of cycling terms. Amongst others, I learnt that the expression Être la lanterne...

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Posted by céline on July 4, 2007
Idioms

To play gooseberry

June 21, 2007

My recent entry on berries reminded me of an email I received from a friend, quite a while back, following a conversation where we debated the origin of "playing gooseberry": I did a quick Google search on "playing gooseberry"...

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Posted by céline on June 21, 2007
Idioms

It's grim up North

May 23, 2007

I’m off to the North-East of England for a week, and someone I mentioned this to reacted by saying, amongst other things, "it’s grim up North". This is an expression I’ve heard many, many times without ever wondering where...

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Posted by céline on May 23, 2007
Idioms

To be no Spring chicken

April 25, 2007

When I wrote my entry about Spring, I came across the expression "to be no Spring chicken". I mentally translated it as "ne plus être tout jeune" (to no longer be quite as young as one used to be). However,...

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Posted by céline on April 25, 2007
Idioms

To have egg on one's face

April 17, 2007

Listening to the news this morning, I heard the following statement: " The hostage situation has left Britain with egg on its face". "To have egg on one's face" means to be very embarrassed or made to look silly. There...

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Posted by céline on April 17, 2007
Idioms

Bright and early

March 27, 2007

Yesterday I received an email from a client which finished by a cheerful: "So see you Wednesday morning, bright and early!!" Bright and early indeed. A taxi is coming to pick me up at 4:45am and I’m off to France...

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Posted by céline on March 27, 2007
Idioms

Brass monkey weather

January 24, 2007

It’s brass monkey weather in the South-East of England at the moment, as heard on the BBC weather forecast last night. This expression is in fact the shortened version of "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass...

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Posted by céline on January 24, 2007
Idioms

Tailgate party

September 28, 2006

Can someone explain where the expression "tailgate party" comes from? I've just spent ages looking for its translation (fête d'avant-match) and I'm very puzzled....

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Posted by céline on September 28, 2006
Idioms

The angels' share

September 19, 2006

During a recent visit to a vineyard in the beautiful Saint-Émilion area, we were told that the lovely, sweet and woody smell in the wine store-house is the result of alcohol evaporating. It is called la part des anges...

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Posted by céline on September 19, 2006
Idioms

Jump the shark and jump the couch

September 15, 2006

"Jumping the shark" is an expression which means that something has reached its peak and can only go downhill from that point. It comes from an episode of Happy Days, in which Fonzie actually jumps a shark on water skis....

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Posted by céline on September 15, 2006
Idioms

Coup du sombrero

July 4, 2006

Now I’m not one to boast: I’m mentioning my latest footballing triumph purely for a linguistic purpose (and the World Cup is on, after all). I did a superb "coup du sombrero" last Wednesday (not just on anyone! On...

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Posted by céline on July 4, 2006
Idioms

A load of tosh

January 20, 2006

I am currently reading Underground London, by Stephen Smith. It mentions toshers, who used to go down into London sewers to hunt for any valuable objects that might have been lost and washed away. Not the most glittering of careers,...

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Posted by céline on January 20, 2006
Idioms

Expressions taken from the Bible

November 30, 2005

A reader asked me how "The scales fell from my eyes" should be translated in French. Very literally: "Les écailles me tombent des yeux". It is an expression taken from the Bible (Acts 9:18) and this led me to wonder...

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Posted by céline on November 30, 2005
Idioms

Whet/wet one's appetite

November 21, 2005

Ha ha! I believe an eggcorn (it is an eggcorn, isn’t it Chris?) has been spotted in the wild on this very website (in the comments of the entry before this one)! Apparently, it’s a very common one: a search...

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Posted by céline on November 21, 2005
Idioms

De but en blanc and à brûle-pourpoint

November 18, 2005

While writing my so-called novel, I caught myself using the expression "de but en blanc", which means suddenly, without warning. According to my useful Dictionnaire d’expressions et locutions, it comes from shooting. "Blanc" represents the target, while "but" should really...

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Posted by céline on November 18, 2005
Idioms

Racist expressions ?

June 28, 2005

As I was researching the origin of the word picnic (I was wondering whether it came from French pique-nique or the other way around), I came across a document claiming that it came from an Oklahoma custom of having a...

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Posted by céline on June 28, 2005
Idioms

To be eaten up

June 2, 2005

Thanks to Max for providing me with an entry, as I struggle to get back into work after a few days on the beautiful île de Ré. He asks me how I would translate the expression “it is eating me...

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Posted by céline on June 2, 2005
Idioms

Pete Tong and a butcher's whistle

May 23, 2005

More rhyming slang came my way this week, and it was interesting for several reasons. Two different friends used it casually in conversation: Marie: "I'll be there on Saturday. It'll give me a chance to have a butcher's at the...

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Posted by céline on May 23, 2005
Idioms

Ne'er cast a clout til May is out

May 16, 2005

Aha! I thought, as I read this entry in Emma Kennedy's blog. She mentions the expression "Ne'er cast a clout til May is out", and I thought I could finally establish a logical pattern of equivalence between French and English...

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Posted by céline on May 16, 2005
Idioms

April showers and Giboulées de mars

April 8, 2005

Yesterday, on my way to the shops, I was caught in what I would describe as a giboulée de mars. Now, as I live in Britain, the nearest translation I have is April shower (even though the de mars part...

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Posted by céline on April 8, 2005
Idioms

A can of worms

March 30, 2005

Journalist: "Well yes, but one thing is obvious: this might open a real can of beans." Eminent pundit: "Err, yes, a can of beans, indeed..." [Pause] Suddenly not so stern-sounding journalist: "Oh dear, did I say can of beans? I...

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Posted by céline on March 30, 2005
Idioms

Faire les quatre cents coups

March 7, 2005

I was reading about the French film festival in Brighton when I saw that they were showing The 400 Blows, by François Truffaut. Tut, tut, I said to myself. This is a literal translation of the original title "Les 400...

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Posted by céline on March 7, 2005
Idioms

Il est tombé dedans quand il était petit

March 4, 2005

"L'écologie? Il est tombé dedans quand il était petit!" (Ecology? He fell in it when he was small!) Those of you who are familiar with Astérix and Obélix will know that this is a reference to Obélix the Gaul. Obélix...

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Posted by céline on March 4, 2005
Idioms, Interpreting

As dull as ditchwater/dishwater

February 16, 2005

"It was as dull as a dishwasher." My friends' giggly response suggested that what I had said wasn't quite right. Whilst this isn't as unusual as I'd perhaps like to admit on this blog, I hadn't expected the ensuing squabble...

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Posted by céline on February 16, 2005
Idioms

Dutch courage and Dutch treat

February 14, 2005

Béné asked me the following question in the comments on the French side: "I've encountered "Dutch treat" and "Dutch courage" in a translation. Do you know equivalent expressions using nationalities?" These two expressions are a good illustration of a basic...

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Posted by céline on February 14, 2005
Idioms

Avoir les jambes en coton

February 7, 2005

I was reading an article about Stanislav Petrov, the man who saved the world in 1983 (via hopping from blog to blog, and hence unable to provide a reference), when I saw this sentence: "I was not sweating," Petrov said,...

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Posted by céline on February 7, 2005
Idioms

Bog standard

January 31, 2005

I am currently working on a fascinating document dealing with education in Britain. It mentions Blair calling comprehensive schools bog standard, or ordinary, in 2001, causing a public outcry. Whilst this is a phrase that we're all familiar with, I...

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Posted by céline on January 31, 2005
Idioms

A load of cobblers

January 14, 2005

"That's a load of cobblers." I'm not sure where I heard this expression recently, but it's common and I thought that it probably was rhyming slang (slang in which a word is replaced by a phrase which rhymes with it)....

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Posted by céline on January 14, 2005
Idioms

The writing is on the wall

December 6, 2004

I came across the expression the writing is on the wall in a translation about the environment explaining that climate change and all its horrid consequences are inevitable. I immediately thought of the translation: C'est écrit (It is written, and...

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Posted by céline on December 6, 2004
Idioms

Happy as Larry

November 26, 2004

A reader asked me about the origin of the expression "happy as Larry", which means being very happy. It looks like nobody is entirely sure. It was first recorded in 1905 and according to abc.net, "Sidney J Baker, in his...

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Posted by céline on November 26, 2004
Idioms

To call a spade a spade and To rain cats and dogs

October 13, 2004

You know the expression "to call a spade a spade"? Well, in French, it's "appeler un chat un chat" (To call a cat a cat). And here, it's raining cats and dogs, but in France it would be raining halberds...

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Posted by céline on October 13, 2004
Idioms

Lame duck

October 6, 2004

These days, it seems that whenever you get "Tony Blair" in a sentence, sooner or later you'll hear "lame duck". Here is the origin of this odd expression : The phrase "lame duck" was first applied on the London Stock...

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Posted by céline on October 6, 2004
Idioms

Practice makes perfect

September 17, 2004

You know when you're looking for an expression, and you're convinced it's there, in the recesses of your brain, but however much you hit yourself around the head to try and dislodge it, it just won't budge? How infuriating is...

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Posted by céline on September 17, 2004
Idioms

All wool and a yard wide

August 18, 2004

Top Cat: You're all cop and a yard wide. Dibble: Thanks! Dibble: Hey… Wait a minute. Top Cat gives Dibble what looks like a compliment in an admiring tone of voice ; Dibble starts by being flattered but as the...

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Posted by céline on August 18, 2004
Idioms

The whole nine yards

July 2, 2004

Polite clapping. Four more runs for Sussex in a lively one-day match against Durham. It's a real shame that the wind is freezing in the Sussex County Cricket ground, otherwise this would be a perfect way to end a Wednesday....

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Posted by céline on July 2, 2004
Idioms

Nautical expressions

June 21, 2004

Here I was, on my windsurf board, gliding along the reservoir, proud and happy, feeling like a starry-eyed Kate Winslet in Titanic (the Queen of the world bit, not the sinking bit). Then my instructor shouts at me: "Céline, you're...

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Posted by céline on June 21, 2004
Idioms

To watch like a hawk

April 19, 2004

Ah, Scotland. Walking in amazingly beautiful glens, trying (and failing) to decipher what the locals are saying, and scanning the mountain tops for golden eagles (that remained elusive till the end). This last pastime during our holiday in stunning Scotland...

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Posted by céline on April 19, 2004
Idioms

Je te connais comme si je t'avais tricoté(e)

April 2, 2004

Now for a little treat, one of my favourite French expressions, although it's really not common at all (1 hit in Google) and I must admit I don't think anyone but my mum uses it. It literally means, "I know...

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Posted by céline on April 2, 2004
Idioms

The Bee's Knees

March 17, 2004

Well, I'm astounded. The bee's knees?? That's an expression? And all these years I've thought people were saying business in a funny way. Thanks to today's entry on Open Brackets, I can now stop giving my very own version of...

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Posted by céline on March 17, 2004
Idioms

Good fences make good neighbours

March 1, 2004

I found this expression while subtitling an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. It is meant to indicate that the best way to maintain cordial relationships with your neighbours is to make sure their space and yours are clearly demarcated....

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Posted by céline on March 1, 2004
Idioms

Neck of the Woods

February 9, 2004

"Neck of the woods" is a particularly odd expression to use when you live in a city and that the nearest thing to a wood around your house is the trees that line your street. However, saying "in my neck...

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Posted by céline on February 9, 2004
Idioms

Entre chien et loup

February 6, 2004

Of all the expressions in the French language, Entre chien et loup (literally translated as between dog and wolf) has to be my all-time favourite. It was brought to my attention by Meredith, who came across the phrase in an...

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Posted by céline on February 6, 2004
Idioms

Like pinning jelly to a wall

January 29, 2004

Blaming Tony Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall. I heard this expression earlier today on Radio 4. The journalist was commenting on how miraculously Tony Blair had been absolved by the Hutton enquiry into the death...

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Posted by céline on January 29, 2004
Idioms

To have kittens

December 12, 2003

Most of yesterday was spent on the phone, sending IM, e-mails and SMS, while trying to remain focused on work, which was slowly but surely piling up. Our friend Gabs was in labour and information was scant. In the evening,...

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Posted by céline on December 12, 2003
Idioms

To scrape the bottom of the barrel

December 3, 2003

Ah, subtitling The Flintstones, The Simpsons and other comedies. Great fun, but an awful lot of idioms to deal with... For example, in an episode I did this week, Fred tells Wilma that he’s not joining the army but helping...

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Posted by céline on December 3, 2003
Idioms