French Idioms

Un déjeuner de soleil

Sun

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, “Un déjeuner de soleil.”

Literally translated as, “a sun’s lunch,” it is used to describe something that’s lovely but short-lived.

When it appeared in the 19th century, the expression refered to those fabrics whose colors faded fast when exposed to sunlight; the sun “swallowed” the colors, as if for lunch.

Over time, its scope broadened to apply to anything that’s ephemeral, but it retained the notion that one would wish for that thing to last longer.

Example: “Il voulait un canapé en cuir blanc pour leur salon, mais sa femme l’en a dissuadé : avec leurs trois enfants, ce serait un déjeuner de soleil.” “He wanted a white leather couch for their living room, but his wife talked him out of it: with their three children, it would be a sun’s lunch.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

Butter

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

As a foreword, I’d like to note that, in response to reader Ellen’s suggestion, the Edible Idioms are now served with an audio file embedded in the post, allowing you to listen to the pronunciation of the idiom and the example sentence. If you wish to go back and browse the archives, all past idioms have been updated to include this read-aloud.

This week’s idiom is, “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre.”

Literally translated as, “wanting the butter and the money for the butter,” it expresses an unreasonable or unrealistic desire to have it all, or to have it both ways in a situation that normally requires a choice between two mutually exclusive options. It is similar to the (also edible) English idiom, having one’s cake and eating it, too.

Example: “Les gens veulent une bonne couverture mobile, mais ne veulent pas d’antennes près de chez eux. Malheureusement, on ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre.” “People want good cell phone coverage, but they don’t want antennas near their homes. Unfortunately, you can’t have the butter and the money for the butter.”

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Comme un tablier à une vache

Shy cow
Photography by Gimli.

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

This week’s idiom is, “Aller à quelqu’un comme un tablier à une vache.”

Literally translated as, “suiting someone like an apron suits a cow,” it is used to express that something, usually an outfit or a piece of clothing, is unbecoming, or even ridiculous on someone.

Example: “J’ai commandé une robe à sequins sur Internet, mais elle m’allait vraiment comme un tablier à une vache, alors je l’ai renvoyée.” “I ordered a sequined dress online, but it really suited me like an apron suits a cow, so I returned it.”

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Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge

Inn

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, “Ne pas être sorti de l’auberge.”

Literally translated as, “not being out of the inn*,” it means that one is tangled up in an unpleasant situation with still a ways to go, or a lot of work to do**, before one can expect to be freed from it.

It can be likened to the English idiom (not) being out of the woods, except that these woods often imply a precarious or dangerous situation, while the French auberge rather refers to one that’s burdensome and discouraging, but not necessarily unsafe.

Example 1: “Le correcteur pinaille sur chaque tournure de phrase, alors on n’est pas sorti de l’auberge.” “The copyeditor nitpicks about every turn of phrase, so we’re not out of the inn (= it’s going to take forever to go through the entire document).”

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Mi-figue mi-raisin

Grapes and figs

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 “Mi-figue mi-raisin.”

Literally translated as “half fig half grape,” it is used as an adjective to mean that a thing, a statement, or a person is ambiguous, or mixed: half good and half bad, half pleasant and half unpleasant, half happy and half sad, half willing and half reluctant, half serious and half joking*… The exact nature of the ambiguity is inferred from the context.

Example 1: “Son livre a reçu des critiques mi-figue mi-raisin.” “His book received lukewarm reviews.”

Example 2: “Elle a déballé son cadeau et nous a remerciés d’un air mi-figue mi-raisin.” “She unwrapped her gift and thanked us with a mixed expression on her face.”

Example 3: “Quand je lui ai demandé s’il comptait démissionner, il m’a fait une réponse mi-figue mi-raisin.” “When I asked him if he planned to quit, he gave me an ambiguous reply.”

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