De but en blanc and à brûle-pourpoint

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 be spelt "butte", as it represents the little mount from which one is shooting. Hence we obtain "from the mount to the target", a straight line.
"À brûle-pourpoint" is a similar expression with a similar meaning which belongs to a similar type of vocabulary. A pourpoint was a piece of clothing for men which covered their torso from the neck to below the belt, and so "tirer à brûle-pourpoint" meant to shoot (tirer) point-blank, the gun being so close to the person that his clothes (pourpoint) would catch fire (brûler) when coming into contact with the gunpowder.
I really must stop delving into every word I write if I want to finish my novel in time.

By | 2016-10-18T15:50:40+00:00 November 18th, 2005|Idioms|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jez November 19, 2005 at 7:34 pm

    I didn’t even start my novel…
    I’ll try and go at a more leisurely pace when I get time…

  2. Jamie November 20, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Is there a way to say “wet your appetite” in french, having to do with food….

  3. Xavier Kreiss November 21, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    For “whet the appetite” I would suggest “aiguiser l’appétit”

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