Ecrire des tartines

Café et tartines

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, “Ecrire des tartines.”

Literally translated as, “writing tartines” (a tartine is a slice of bread topped with some sort of spread, such as butter or jam), it means writing reams, or being unnecessarily wordy.

Example: “J’étais surprise que sa lettre soit si courte ; d’habitude, il m’écrit des tartines.” “I was surprised his letter was so short; he usually writes me tartines.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

This colloquial expression can also appear in the singular (“écrire une tartine”) and is derived from the 18th-century journalists’ slang, in which une tartine was a very long (and, it is implied, boring) article or speech. A rather self-explanatory image; I always picture the writer or speaker fastidiously buttering a long piece of split baguette.

  • Frances Segerson

    I just love learning the food-related French idioms! I studied French in school for six years, but we never got to these.

    I’ll keep it brief. Je ne veux pas écrire une tartine!

  • Diablevert

    Interesting. It’s an idiom, and idioms don’t have to make sense, but still I wonder whether this an expression that could only make sense in France, where the traditional bread is long and narrow. If there was an expression here that evoked an image of buttering, that might connote thoroughness, but I don’t think it could evoke lengthiness, since our prototypical bread is a square loaf slice. Unless maybe it’s the jam bit that’s important?

  • cajun_pluto

    I’ve just recently become a devotee of your blog (I ended up here from a tip by google reader to collect recipes). I’m from South Louisiana and my family is of French origins. Many Cajun sayings only make sense if you know the original French (instead of going shopping, one “makes groceries”; instead of putting away the clothes, one “saves the clothes”, so I find these posts very interesting. I would like to know if the edible idiom “Lache pas la patate” is used in France, and its connotation. When running for governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards used this in his campaign, and I’ve never understood its meaning.

    Thanks for the recipes too!

  • kim

    isn’t the “real” idiom “en faire des tartines”?
    It actually has the same meaning, but without the writing thing…

  • Diablevert – Not all French bread is long and narrow, but I see your point! In my mind, though, the idea of a buttered tartine somehow indicates that you’re overdoing it, adding more and more butter to distract the reader/listener from the fact that you don’t really have a point.

    Cajun_pluto – Thanks for the interesting thoughts on Cajun sayings; I wasn’t aware of that. As for the “lâche pas la patate” expression, I’ve never encountered it — in what sense did the governor use it?

    Kim – The real core of the idiom is the tartine bit, and both verbs can indeed be used, faire or écrire — there isn’t one that’s more “real” than the other, at least from what I’ve found.

  • cajun_pluto

    Thanks for the response. As for “lâche pas la patate”, I really never quite understood what he meant by that. I was hoping maybe it was some expression you’ve encountered before. Oh well, thanks anyway.

  • yourpapounet

    Cajun_pluto : “lâche pas la patate” means “don’t give up”, “hang in there”.
    You’ll find it in some cajun songs, incidentally.

  • kim

    with the potatoes, you also have “se refiler la patate chaude”, which means passing to others a topic or thing that bothers you… well, hard to explain in English, isn’t it?

  • yourpapounet

    Kim : “to pass the buck” is the equivalent, although in a milder form (the “hot” potato conveys the idea that it’s a burning issue that really no one wants to deal with…)

  • c’est tres y est un expression nouvelle pour moi, dans Quebec je n’ai jamais entendu cette expression avant, alors, maintenant, je vais l’essaye.

    love your posts

  • Great series you have here with the idioms!

    As a food lover, and having lived in France for over 5 years (in addition to being married to a Frenchman) I can appreciate the idioms a lot.

    It’s wonderful that the French have such a connection with food, and having food-related idioms is just one small way of showing that.

    The French have such a healthy and balanced relationship with food. I help American women (and other women) find that balance. My goal is to educate and inspire them to have an appreciation, and not fear of, food.

    The French take food, and their well-being, seriously.

    Thanks Clotidle, for getting the same message out! I look forward to seeing your upcoming posts!

  • oh the french, never got this advanced at school

  • kim

    @Diablevert: It’s not something that only makes sense in French, we have a very similar expression in Dutch: “Een hele boterham” roughly translated “A whole tartine/sandwich” stands for a long piece of text (a long article, long book, or a long letter). Our bread is just a regular loaf though. So I think it has more to do with loading on butter & charcuterie etc.

  • Giorgio

    Please, explain the french “froid de canard”. :-)

  • Kaat

    How about this: writing (spec. for newspapers etc.) is usually paid per word, so writing a text with excessive words is simply making money? To buy bread?

  • Lise

    According to Bill Casselman: Lâche pas la patate! Don’t wimp out! Don’t be a suck! Don’t give up! Literally: Don’t let go of the potato.
    Love your blog and your books, Clotilde. Mille mercis

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