Ne pas être dans son assiette


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 idiom is, “Ne pas être dans son assiette.”

Literally translated as, “not being in one’s plate,” it is a colloquial expression that means feeling under the weather, being out of sorts, physically and/or morally.

Example: “Je ne sais pas ce que j’ai, je ne suis vraiment pas dans mon assiette.” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m really not in my plate.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(Note that I pronounced the example sentence the way I would in real life, which sounds more like, “Chais pas c’que j’ai, chuis vraiment pas dans mon assiette.”)

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

I always felt absolutely sure that this expression referred to the fact that you lose your appetite when you’re coming down with a cold, and that you don’t feel up to eating what’s on your plate. But it turns out that it is another one of those expressions I grew up with, thinking that I understood them, when it had in fact an unsuspected origin.

Long before it came to be an individual serving vessel, in the sixteenth century, l’assiette was the place where one was seated at the table, or the way one was sitting. It is still used today to refer to a horserider’s posture, the stability of a plane or boat, and more generally, something firm and stable on which other things can be built, literally or figuratively.

In this new light, it appears that “not being in your plate” really comes from the idea that you’re not sitting in your habitual seat, that you’re not feeling like you usually do, and that you’ve lost some of your balance and stability.

(And with any luck, after a few days of not being in your plate, you’ll have the peach again!)

  • Absolutely adorable and enlightening again. Finally, ‘l’assiette’ and ‘être assis’ make much more sense together.

  • I like this one a lot, and I prefer your interpretation: if I’ve lost my appetite, it’s a serious sign that something’s wrong!

  • I love these idioms! They complement the site beautifully.

  • How timely to have this today as that is EXACTLY how I am feeling. Maybe it’s the grey Paris sky?

  • i never knew where that expression came from. plate=seat, of course!

  • i love these idiom posts!

  • Alice

    A friend taught me “sur mon assiette” instead of “dans”. Is my friend mistaken, or is either correct?

  • Alice – I have never come across this expression with sur instead of dans, nor was I able to find a reference to it in the dictionaries I use, so I’m inclined to think it’s not used in that form. Is your friend French?

  • I wish English had more of these food-related idioms!

  • Alice

    My friend lived in France until she was ten, but hasn’t been back since, so it’s entirely possible that she just misremembered the phrase.

  • Brent

    @Mary: American English has many food idioms:

    to be bananas about something
    to slip on a banana peel
    to be easy as pie/cake
    to be cooking (with gas)
    to be peachy / peachy keen (in good spirits)
    to be a plum/peach (extraordinary)
    to be plum tuckered

    That’s the way the cookie crumbles!
    Oh, prunes! (balderdash)
    Tastes like chicken! (ordinary)
    Would you like fries with that? (having a bad job)
    How do you like them apples? (get a comeuppance)

    These are just a few I can think of on short order…

  • Joan

    Clotilde, I particularly love the photo…and of course the idiom!

  • Natasha

    That’s really interesting. You know, the Russians have a very similar phrase – directly translated as ‘to not feel (yourself) in your own plate’. It’s used in a very similar way, to mean something like, ‘to feel at home’ – so you could say, ‘when I was living in Russia, I always felt in my own plate, whereas when I was living in Paris, I didn’t feel in my own plate’.

  • You’ve finally done it – you’ve featured my favorite French idiom. I love that phrase. Thanks.

    (I learned “dans” in school.)

    Incidentally, I once wrote a paper (en Français) for a French comp class, sort of philosophical, about the phrase. I got a really good grade.

  • c’est une très belle idée de proposer ces expressions idiomatiques !

  • J’adore cette rubrique ‘french idioms’, c’est très original. Merci pour ta curiosité et fraîcheur habituelle
    Une lectrice fidèle

  • I just wanted you to know that I bought your second cook book over the weekend and just love it – especially the way it’s organized. I hope you have plans to write a third!

  • What a lovely visit to your blog via Write on the Thyme. Out tomorrow to purchase Miso, I’m going to try your Miso Marinated Flank Steak. Will be back for a longer visit (and to download the whole recipe).

  • Its interesting how this phrase came about. I thought it was going to have to food too instead of not being in a stable position.

  • Amy

    That idiom reminds me of the English “He’s off his feed” as in the horse not using the feed bag/eating, and therefore not feeling well.

  • Irina

    I don’t speak French, but I have to tell you that there’s exactly the same expression in Russian (that’s my native language). It sounds like this: “не в своей тарелке”. As I’m learning new French words (this is my long-term goal – to learn French), I find more and more words that were borrowed from French by Russians. This expression could be one of them… Thanks, Clotilde! I’m your fan!

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