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.”

Listen to the idiom and examples read aloud:

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

This idiom first appeared in the 15th century, but the reasoning behind it is unclear. Dried figs and raisins (i.e. dried grapes) were both eaten during Lent, and the latter were more prized than the former, which could explain the dichotomy implied between the two.

Other sources indicate that it could come from the fact that Greek merchants, who sold currants (in French, raisins de Corinthe, or grapes from Corinth) to Venetian clients, would occasionally try to cheat them by hiding figs, which were cheaper and heavier, at the bottom of the bags. The author of Expressio, however, dismisses this explanation as a story made up long after the fact.

* See also: Ne pas savoir si c’est du lard ou du cochon.

  • This probably isn’t what I was meant to take from this article, which was actually very interesting, but I love fresh figs sooo much that I would much rather be falsly sold figs as raisins!

  • miho

    Wow,intresting expression!And nice picture,Clotilde!!
    What are these behind the fig and grape in your pic?

  • Well, precisely mysterycreature – my feelings exactly ! I was surprised that raisins turned out to be the desirable half. I’ve also never understood why in Europe (including the UK) that raisins and currants are favoured over sultanas.

  • Lorsque mon ami m’a demandé si je prefère des figues ou des raisins, j’ai repondu que j’aime les deux également!

  • Filed away!

  • An interesting expression suggesting that figs are not highly valued in France, a little bit like the Italian idiom, ‘non me ne importa un fico’ ( I dont give a damn) or non vale un fico, (it’s worthless). Many years ago, we stayed in a little village in Provence, and, noting that all the figs were falling and rotting on the ground, we asked the farmer if we could collect these to make jam. He was quite surprised by the strange request and agreed. We made many lovely pots of fig jam to accompany our morning baguettes. Thankyou for your inspiring insigts into language.

  • Katja

    This is a really interesting idiom, because as someone who has grown up in North America, I think of grapes as being rather ordinary and fresh figs as being exotic- the first ones I had in my life were when I studied in Lyon last year!
    Thanks so much for the site, Clotilde. It is beautiful and filled with great recipe ideas and French-culture tidbits. I especially appreciate the “edible idioms” and the version francaise as they really help me keep up my French!

  • Aiyana

    This is a particularly delicious idiom– merci, Clotilde!

  • FN

    I love this weekly lesson. I live in NY but am working in Paris for a while. I don’t speak French very well. Once in a while I use a phrase I learn here and my French colleagues look at me in absolute surprise.

    Thanks for that.

  • Ruth Adams

    The English idiom “I don’t care a fig. (worth)” is similar to the Italian in Morgana’s entry.

  • magnifique! i wouldn’t mind having that idiom used in reference to me… as long as figs and raisins were to follow.



  • skyywise

    For the sake of intercultural language comparisons, in Chinese, the word for “so-so” is: 马马虎虎. Pronounced “ma ma hu hu” (in Mandarin) it basically means that a thing is “a little bit horse, a little bit tiger” and thus carries a similar feeling of mixed ambiguity.

    It’s closer to “comme ci comme ca” in meaning, but the mindset and visualness of the word feels closer to “mi-figue mi-raisin.”

  • SZ

    Merci beaucoup pour les “edible idioms”! Comme mon copain est Français et je suis Allemande, j’ai cherché d’autres idiomes mangeables en Allemand pour rallonger votre liste. J’entends décorer notre cuisine dans les deux langues. Cela commencera par “Liebe geht durch den Magen”.

  • i adore your series on edible idioms.. they are so distinctively fitting and fun… i mentioned this post in my blog today, and linked back to here. i’m also planning on trying that flourless poppy seed cake one day very soon. your photographs are as delicious as the recipes themselves.

    bisous from california.

  • On peut illustrer l’expression “mi-figue, mi-raisin” par une autre expression gustative. Par exemple : “Tu as compris ce qu’il disait ? Je ne sais pas si c’est du lard ou du cochon” revient à dire “Tu as compris ce qu’il disait ? C’est très ambigu.” (ou ce sont des propos “mi-figue, mi-raisin”, ou c’est une réponse de Normand).
    Bravo pour ton blog !



  • Miette – Voir ici pour l’expression ne pas savoir si c’est du lard ou du cochon, examinée en novembre !

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