Ne pas digérer quelque chose

Digestive biscuit
Digestive biscuit photographed by Qiao-Da-Ye.

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

This week’s expression is, “Ne pas digérer quelque chose.”

Literally translated as, “not digesting something,” it means holding a grudge about something, being unhappy about a past situation, and not being able to let it go.

Example: “Il n’a toujours pas digéré ce qu’il considère comme une erreur d’arbitrage.” “He still hasn’t digested what he considers to be a referee error.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

The image is easy to understand: life experiences are seen here as foods, and a situation that’s painful, upsetting or humiliating won’t go down easily. On the contrary, you’re likely to mull over it — to ruminate, really — for a while, just like those foods you find hard to digest will “haunt” you (such a pleasant feeling) for hours after you’ve eaten them.

A closely related expression to this one is, Ça me reste en travers de la gorge — it stays stuck in my throat — which means the same thing and draws upon a similar idea.

  • I love these theme! I’d love to know the next idiom so I could cook/bake along:)

  • Same identical idiom in Italian. I never realized until now that it does not translate literally into English!

  • This makes me really miss my high school and college French classes! I love the intricacies and cleverness of idioms like these!
    Great idea for a theme!

  • In English one sometimes says “I can’t/won’t/didn’t swallow that,” though it’s more in the sense of being incredulous. Not quite the same thing, but similar.

    • We have a similar idiom in French: “faire avaler quelque chose à quelqu’un” (making someone swallow something) which means fooling someone by making him believe a lie.

  • redbee/abeillerouge

    Also similar (but not the same) in American English is “to not be able to stomach something,” meaning you can’t/won’t stand it.

    We do have a direct equivalent for “ça me reste en travers de la gorge.” It is “that sticks in my throat” or, my favorite, “that sticks in my craw.” Craw being a bird’s throat; it just sounds better, more Anglo Saxon. :)

    J’aime bien ton blog — pour l’information et pour practiquer mon français. Merci!

    • The stomaching one I knew (but hadn’t thought of it) and the “stick in my craw” one is new to me, thanks a lot!

  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE learning French idioms!! It’s the most entertaining part of discovering a new language, and it puts into perspective how many odd expressions there are in English, too.

  • A similar expression in English to “Ça me reste en travers de la gorge” is, “It sticks in my craw” — where a “craw” is literally a bird’s throat, although the expression is of course figurative :-)

    • Happy to have learned the one about the craw — I didn’t know the word “craw” either, so that’s two things I’ve learned!

  • Erin

    Hi Clotilde–

    I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing a Thanksgiving feast this week starring your recipes, none of which I have ever made before. (All the ones I have tried have been fantastic, it must be said.) I am either brave or stupid for serving blind. I love your blog, and thanks for the inspiration.

    • That’s lovely to hear, Erin, I hope your dinner is a success!

  • Love. I can’t wait to use this. I mean if I were to hold grudges…

  • Aisha

    Speaking of digestion, and that lovely picture of a Digestive biscuit you chose to illustrate your post, you wouldn’t happen to have a reliable recipe for homemade Digestives, or maybe tried your hand at coming up with one?
    I’ve looked around on the internet and they’re pretty hard to come by (the recipes, I mean). Tried one that came pretty close, but still wasn’t IT.
    Why homemade Digestives you may ask? Well for one, they’re outrageously expensive here in France. I mean, for heaven’s sake! They’re like the “Petits Beurres” of Britain, but you feel like you’re buying the caviar of cookies when you get them here.
    I do have a brother who studies in the UK but he always conveniently “forgets” or doesn’t “have time” to buy them before coming back (I tease, he’s lovely and loving).
    The second beef I have is the use of palm oil, which I would rather avoid for health and environmental reasons.
    And anyway, I get such a kick from munching on a Digestive, and such satisfaction from making stuff at home, I can’t imagine what the combination would be like…
    So any help in my quest would be greatly appreciated! I’m ready to bake test batches for you if you want me to!


    • I’ve never tried making digestive biscuits — though I agree with your opinion of the overpriced imported ones — but I know my friend Pascale has, and she used a Gary Rhodes recipe, if you’d like to try it. Will you let us know how it turns out?

      • Aisha

        Following your suggestion, I used Gary Rhode’s recipe for Digestives, following some of Pascale’s instructions as well (grinding oats).
        I did make a few changes:
        – considering the ingredient list on the McVitie’s Digestive pack, I saw that it contained only wheat products, no oats, so I subbed the oats with 50g of wheat flakes that I ground up as Pascale instructed, and 50g of wheat bran
        – I tried to estimate the fat content from the nutritional info on the packet (very very rough estimate, I know), and found it was about 20%, so I decreased the amount of butter to 70g instead of 100g
        – my dough was pretty dry so I had to use an extra TB of milk to bind

        The result: cooling on wire racks as I type, but I had a sneak preview. The taste is there, very close to McVitie’s Digestives. It has a nice “sable” texture but feels grainier. I guess that’s because of the wheat flakes and the bran. I think they need a finer grind, which I will try next time.

        All in all, it’s a solid base recipe that can easily be tweaked to reach your personal vision of an ideal Digestive biscuit. Definitely trying it again!

        Thanks again for the link Clotilde!

        • That’s fantastic to hear, Aisha, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re making me want to follow in your experimenting footsteps!

  • Sam

    Did you see the article in the New York Times last week about how the brain processes metaphors literally? That seems particularly apropos to your post. So interesting…

  • I love this – so interesting!

  • cornflower

    In English, we also “digest” (or fail to digest) things that aren’t food, but it means something closer to “understand,” usually when understanding is not immediate or trivial (for either emotional or intellectual reasons.) “I explained to my daughter the paradoxes involved in integrating quantum mechanics with relativity, but it’s going to take her a while to digest it.” “He read Finnegan’s Wake over seventy years ago and is still digesting it.” “Over toast, she told John that she was three months pregnant, and he was still digesting this when she left for work.”

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts! I love that you included example sentences, they’re more difficult to come up with than one might think.

  • Hi!
    Do the Digestives cookies really help with digestion? I wonder where the idea came from? I know that the English eat an oat version.

    To me (an American) they look very bland, lol! I need some chocolate chips or nuts. Perhaps both!

    Anyway, I do see those cookies here in the U.S. and if you say they’re tasty I’ll buy some….


    • According to Wikipedia, “The term ‘digestive’ is derived from the belief that they had antacid properties due to the use of sodium bicarbonate when they were first developed.” I agree they’re very simple cookies, but I like them.

  • Rachel

    These are really wonderful, such an antidote to the bland and formal version of the language we are taught here in the UK. I work in France for a month every year, but unfortunately the only French I can speak is restaurant French.

    And on the subject of digestives, they are the most boring in appearance but oddly there is nothing more enjoyable with tea or a glass of milk. I have to go to the shop now… I must stop looking at your blog when I’m low on supplies, it always makes me so hungry!

    • I’m happy that you find these useful, Rachel, and I agree: learning a foreign language is all about the colloquialisms!

  • christine in Los Angeles

    For Lisa — the Digestive biscuits DO come in a chocolate-covered version. Available at British shops in most large cities, if not in the imported-food aisle in your grocer’s store.
    God bless, Christine in Los Angeles

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