Rouler quelqu’un dans la farine

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, “Rouler quelqu’un dans la farine.”

Literally translated as, “rolling someone in flour,” it means duping someone, playing a trick on him, or using one’s wits and lies to take advantage of someone who’s a little naive, or not quite as smart as one is.

According to these sources, the expression dates back to the early nineteenth century. Rouler quelqu’un (literally, rouler = to roll) means cheating or swindling somebody, and la farine (flour) symbolizes lies, or misleading arguments, perhaps in relation to the fact that actors then used it as stage makeup. It also adds a notion of ridicule: the gullible victim is somehow responsible for letting himself be fooled so easily.

Example: “A chaque fois, elle lui promettait que ça ne se reproduirait plus, mais tout le monde voyait bien qu’elle le roulait dans la farine.” “She kept promising it wouldn’t happen again, but everyone could see she was rolling him in flour.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

  • Ooh, I especially like this one! Aside from the expression itself, I think the separate explanations of “rouler qqn” and details about flour being used at that time are very interesting, and will definitely help me remember this one sans problème! Merci Clotilde and if you are coming to the Pays Basque, please let me know :)

  • Wynne

    I am very much enjoying your Edible Idiom feature–thank you!

  • I like this one it sounds funny to me (I guess just thinking of rolling someone in flour in the literall sense makes me laugh). Good one!

  • Now I know how to describe what happened in the United States for the past eight years – thanks!

  • Stephanie

    I love these idioms. Please do not ever stop!! I am totally living for the next one.
    Wow – that shows just how exciting my life is :)

  • Anything to do with the story of the little goats (I think it was goats) who were deceived into letting the big bad wolf in because he was able de “montrer patte blanche” having dipped its paw in the flour so the kids would think he was a goat?

  • Love these! I think these kinds of phrases help me seem much more, shall we say, well versed in French when I’m trying to hold a basic conversation with someone. My goal: Try to insert this phrase into my next French sentence!

  • Aiyana

    Ohh, I love it. Merci, Clotilde!

  • nbm

    It seems comparable to the (rather antiquated) phrase “to throw dust in someone’s eyes,” that is, to deceive. In English “to roll someone” [slang] is to rob a sleeping or drugged person, often a prostitute’s client. Here’s one of the citations from the Oxford English Dictionary:

    1939 R. CHANDLER Big Sleep xx. 167 Here we are with a guy who..has fifteen grand in his pants… Somebody rolls him for it and rolls him too hard, so they have to take him out in the desert and plant him among the cactuses.

    But there are no food products involved in either phrase.

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