French Idioms

Ce n’est pas de la tarte

Tartelettes aux fraises

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Ce n’est pas de la tarte.”

Approximately translated as, “it’s not pie*,” it means that something is tricky, difficult to do or to handle. Because it is a colloquial expression that is mostly spoken, it is usually elided to, “C’est pas de la tarte.”

Example: “J’essaye de lui faire faire une sieste, mais c’est pas de la tarte !” “I’m trying to put him down for a nap, but it’s not pie!”

* Une tarte should really be translated as a tart, i.e. a pie with no top crust, but then the translated phrase, “it’s not tart,” sounded too ambiguous for quick understanding (tart=pie or tart=sour?).

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Mettre son grain de sel

Sel

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to the culinary world. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Mettre son grain de sel.”

Literally translated as, “putting in one’s grain of salt,” it means interfering with a conversation or situation with an unsollicited comment or opinion. It is a colloquial expression that is somewhat similar to the American English idiom, “adding one’s two cents.” Depending on the context, a person’s urge to slip in his grain of salt can be seen in a positive light (outspoken/endearing) or a negative one (meddlesome/annoying*).

Example: “Ils avaient choisi le menu, mais le père de la mariée a mis son grain de sel, et il a fallu tout changer.” “They had chosen the menu, but the bride’s father put in his grain of salt, and the whole thing had to be changed.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Raisonner comme une casserole

Casserole

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to the culinary world. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Raisonner comme une casserole.”

Literally translated as, “reasoning like a saucepan,” it means demonstrating poor logic, formulating arguments that are evidently flawed. It is a colloquial expression that should only be used in informal conversation.

Example: “Ce n’est pas la peine d’essayer de discuter avec lui, il raisonne comme une casserole.” “It’s not worth trying to talk to him, he reasons like a saucepan.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Le ver est dans le fruit

Pomme

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Le ver est dans le fruit.”

Literally translated as, “the worm is in the fruit,” it means that the damage is done, that a situation is inherently faulty, and that it’s impossible or too late to do anything about it. It can also be used humorously, to comment with mock fatalism on the way a situation is turning, or is bound to turn.

Example: “Ils ont beau essayer de lutter contre la corruption, le ver est dans le fruit.” “Try as they might to fight corruption, the worm is in the fruit.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Ne pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes

Torchons

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Ne pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes.”

Literally translated as, “not mixing dishtowels with napkins,” it means treating things or people differently according to their perceived value or class, but also, more generally, not mixing things of different kinds, with the implication that some of those things are superior to the others.

It is a colloquial expression that usually appears as “Il ne faut pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes” or “On ne mélange pas les torchons et les serviettes” (one mustn’t/doesn’t mix dishtowels with napkins). It can be delivered either earnestly or ironically, to deride a person’s or an institution’s narrowmindedness.

Example: Pierre Bergé a refusé que les portraits d’Yves Saint Laurent figurent aux côtés d’autres portraits de couturiers dans l’exposition d’Andy Warhol au Grand Palais. « Il ne faut pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes » a-t-il déclaré avant de demander que les tableaux soient déplacés dans la section des artistes.”

(Pierre Bergé refused to have Yves Saint Laurent’s portraits appear side by side with other fashion designers in the Warhol exhibition at the Grand Palais. “One mustn’t mix dishtowels with napkins,” he said, before asking to have the paintings moved to the artists section.) [This example is slightly rephrased from a recent article in L’Express Styles.]

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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