Marcher sur des oeufs

Quail eggs

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

This week’s idiom is, “Marcher sur des œufs.”

Literally translated as, “walking on eggs,” it is equivalent to the English expression that appears more frequently as walking on eggshells*, i.e. acting with the greatest of caution in a tricky, sensitive situation, especially to avoid hurting or provoking someone.

Example: “La dernière fois qu’on en a parlé, il s’est mis en colère, alors maintenant je marche sur des œufs.” “Last time we talked about it, he got angry, so now I’m walking on eggs.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

This idiom appeared in the early nineteenth century; it features in the 1835 Dictionnaire de l’Académie française. As you will surely have guessed, it refers to the fragility of the eggshell, and the idea that if you were to try and walk on whole eggs without breaking them, you would indeed have to be very, very careful (being some sort of a magician might help, too).

* An egg = un œuf; an eggshell = une coquille d’œuf. The word for egg includes a mandatory ligature between the “o” and the “e.” Word processors usually make the correction automatically, but because that special “œ” character is a bit of a pain to type, the ligature is often dropped in online writing.

  • interesting piece on soufles on the NPR Kitchen Window right now. embarrassed to say i didn’t know that soufle simply meant “saucepan.”

    remember the old Steve Martin bit? oeuf means egg, chapeau means hat… it’s like those French have a different word for everything!

  • 12th Man – I assume you mean casserole rather than soufflé?

  • Beautiful photo of eggs! What type are those?

  • Nous avons en Italie la meme expression, “camminare sulle uova”! :)

    Je n’avais jamais pensée combien de fois les aliments entrent dans notre language! :)

  • Interesting when idioms stay relatively close in translation. Loved the handy audio clip :)

  • felix

    the same expression exists in german: “wie auf eiern gehen” (walking as if on eggs). however, this can only be used for movements (most commonly walking but also running, driving etc.)

  • Q: Why is a French omelette made with only one egg?

    A: Because one egg is un oeuf!

  • I love it! Of course, it sounds lovelier in French than in its English equivalent–but then again, most things do!

  • Amy

    I just love it when I can guess what a French idiom means. Unlike most of the ones you’ve covered, I was able to get this one, since it’s so similar to the English version (and, if you ask me, it makes more sense).

  • @felix: This expression came to my mind, too!
    Best Food blog ever! Greetings from Germany!

  • EB

    I like this one. It really is useful for certain situations.

  • Hi Clotilde

    Love the series on French Idioms. It still astounds me the similarity between French and English.

  • @ 12th Man:
    Your NPR reference has me intrigued –
    are you sure they were not referring to a “dish” , i. e. meal, as in a soufflé being a dish, not a casserole or like cooking vessel?

    Soufflé –
    [French, from past participle of souffler, to puff up, from Old French soffler, from Latin sufflāre : sub-, sub- + flāre, to blow.]

  • Joan

    the added bonus of the speckled loveliness!

    from The West Wing..a sweet scene with Leo and Margaret

    Margaret: Want to hear a joke?
    Leo: Uh… Okay.
    Margaret: You know why they only eat one egg for breakfast in France?
    Leo: Why?
    Margaret: ‘Cause in France, one egg is ‘un oeuf’.

    Jokes have their own energy…

    Clotilde, thanks for the audio clip..I keep replaying it and try to keep up!!!!!

  • I genuinely didn’t know there was a French equivolent of “Walking on eggshells”.

    Similar to Treading carefully!

  • I so appreciate this series! Thank you!

    And it’s wonderful learning one that’s pretty close to English, so I have an even better chance of actually remembering it. ; )

  • Just wanted to say, I`m starting to love your blog. The first thing I did was downloading the wallpaper, it is fantastic! Love it!! Thanks!!!
    Check my new blog of same kind of things, but in the Basque Country in Spain. Hope you like it not easy at all to start this thing going!!!

  • My French is so rusty but I love reading your edible idioms because they’re so fun and unintimidating! Moi, je marche sur des oeufs quand ma mere parle de mariage. ;)

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.