Mettre la main à la pâte


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, “Mettre la main à la pâte.”

Literally translated as, “putting one’s hand to the dough,” it means being willing to participate in an activity that will require some effort. The activity in question is often manual work that is best done by a team, and the idiom is comparable to the English expression, “putting one’s shoulder to the wheel.”

Example: “Comme le propriétaire de l’immeuble rechignait à s’en occuper, tous les occupants ont mis la main à la pâte pour repeindre eux-mêmes la cage d’escalier.” “Since the owner of the building was reluctant to take care of it, all residents put their hand to the dough to repaint the stairwell themselves.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

This idiom draws upon the image of the bread baker again (see avoir du pain sur la planche), who has no choice but to knead the dough if he wants the job done. The excellent expressio notes that it has been in use since the 13th century.

[And the picture above was shot during a bread baking class I took two years ago; I certainly put my hand to that dough.]

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