French Idioms

Mettre de l’eau dans son vin

Caviste

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food and drink. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Mettre de l’eau dans son vin.”

Literally translated as, “putting water in one’s wine,” it means lessening one’s demands or ambitions, mellowing, deciding to adopt a more moderate stand on an issue or in an argument.

It can be used in a positive sense (being more tolerant, making an effort to reach a compromise*) or, though more rarely, in a negative sense (giving up on one’s ideals, selling out).

Example: “Au début, elle ne voulait pas que son fils joue à des jeux vidéo le soir en semaine, et puis elle a mis de l’eau dans son vin, et maintenant il a le droit de jouer une fois qu’il a fini ses devoirs.” “Initially, she didn’t want her son to play video games on weeknights, but then she put water in her wine, and now he’s allowed to play when he’s done with his homework.”

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S’occuper de ses oignons

Onions

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “S’occuper de ses oignons.”

Literally translated as “taking care of one’s onions,” it means minding one’s own business, and it is used in situations when someone is meddling in someone else’s affairs*.

Example 1: “Je n’ai pas besoin de tes conseils, occupe-toi de tes oignons !” “I don’t need your advice, mind your own business!”

Example 2: “Si tu veux vraiment qu’elle s’occupe de ses oignons, il faut que tu arrêtes de l’appeler à l’aide au moindre problème.” “If you really want her to mind her own business, you have to stop calling her for help every time you have a problem.”

Listen to the idiom and examples read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

The onions in question are old slang** for buttocks, or testicles (can’t wait to see the search engine hits that sentence will generate). The word “onion” is seldom (if ever) used in that sense today, but the idiom lived on.

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Mettre la main à la pâte

Dough

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Mettre la main à la pâte.”

Literally translated as, “putting one’s hand to the dough,” it means being willing to participate in an activity that will require some effort. The activity in question is often manual work that is best done by a team, and the idiom is comparable to the English expression, “putting one’s shoulder to the wheel.”

Example: “Comme le propriétaire de l’immeuble rechignait à s’en occuper, tous les occupants ont mis la main à la pâte pour repeindre eux-mêmes la cage d’escalier.” “Since the owner of the building was reluctant to take care of it, all residents put their hand to the dough to repaint the stairwell themselves.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

This idiom draws upon the image of the bread baker again (see avoir du pain sur la planche), who has no choice but to knead the dough if he wants the job done. The excellent expressio notes that it has been in use since the 13th century.

[And the picture above was shot during a bread baking class I took two years ago; I certainly put my hand to that dough.]

Ne pas savoir à quelle sauce on va être mangé

Hachis parmentier

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Ne pas savoir à quelle sauce on va être mangé.”

Literally translated as, “not knowing what sauce one is going to be eaten with,” it means that one’s prospects are uncertain, not very good, and entirely outside of one’s control. (Any resemblance to global events is purely coincidental.)

Example #1: “L’usine vient d’être rachetée par un groupe étranger et les ouvriers ne savent pas à quelle sauce ils vont être mangés.” “The factory was just bought out by a foreign corporation and the workers don’t know what sauce they’re going to be eaten with.”

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Faute de grives, on mange des merles

Thrush
Photography by Mynette Laine; more winged stunners in her bird set.

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s entry is really an adage more than an idiom. It goes, “Faute de grives, on mange des merles” and can also appear as, “Faute de grives, on se contente de merles.”

Literally translated as, “In want of thrushes, one eats (or settles for) blackbirds,” it means that one must find a way to make do with what’s available. In other words, beggars can’t be choosers.

Example, from the real-life greenmarket situation that inspired this post: “Vous n’avez plus de poires ? Tant pis, je vais vous prendre des pommes. Faute de grives, on mange des merles !” “You’re all out of pears? Never mind, I’ll have some apples. In want of thrushes, one eats blackbirds!”

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