07 December 2009

“Botanical idioms”

Yesterday I was looking things up using Google and Wikipedia, both French and English, when I came across a Wikipedia French page that lists dozens of expressions that include the names of fruits and vegetables.

Things like:

avoir un cœur d'artichaut (to have an artichoke heart) =
to be fickle

c'est une asperge (calling a person an asparagus) =
describes a person who is too tall and too skinny

avoir la banane (to have the banana) =
to have a big smile and be feeling great

avoir du blé (to have wheat) =
to have money (or even a lot of dough)

les carottes sont cuites (the carrots are cooked) =
all is lost, the game is over

appuyer sur le champignon (to press down on the mushroom) =
to step on the accelerator and speed up

ne rien avoir dans la citrouille (have nothing in the pumpkin) =
to be stupid

être dur de la feuille (to be hard of the leaf) =
to be hard of hearing (leaf = ear)

c'est la fin des haricots (that's the end of the beans) =
that's it, it's all over

avoir le melon (to have the melon) =
to have a swelled head, to be full of oneself

un navet (a turnip) =
a bad movie or play

se mettre en rang d'oignons (stand like a row of onions) =
to line up single-file

s'habiller en pelure d'oignon (to dress in onion skins) =
to wear several layers of clothing

en avoir gros sur la patate (to have a loaded down potato) =
to be very sad (potato = heart, I think)

avoir la patate (to have the potato) =
to be feeling good, in fine form

avoir la pêche (to have the peach) =
to be feeling good, in fine form

manger les pissenlits par la racine
(to be eating dandelions by the roots) =
to be dead and buried (“pushing up daisies”)

une poire or une bonne poire (a pear, or “a good pear”) =
a person easily taken advantage of

découvrir le pot aux roses (to discover the pot of roses) =
to learn the truth

raconter des salades (to tell salads) =
to give confusing and untruthful explanations, nonsense

And so many more, some very polite and some a little racy. Enjoy.

By the way, the French word for “idiom” is « idiotisme ». That always makes me smile.


  1. Ken - have you used any of these yourself ?
    Our French teacher has told us several similar expressions and when we have tried them out the reaction has been mixed ! When we tried the "dit une salade" on our neighbour Mme André she looked at us as if we had just landed from another planet ! She seemed to have no idea what we meant.

  2. Yes, Jean, these are expressions I hear people using and have used myself. As for the salades, I think you have to have it in the plural, and use the verb raconter instead of dire.

  3. There's a scene in the movie Camille Claudel (about the life of sculptor Camille Claudel, and her relationship with Auguste Rodin) where Rodin and Claudel are arguing bitterly and she's accusing him of all kinds of things... and he suddenly bursts out with: "Arrête avec ces salades!" ("Stop with all of this nonsense!") and that was the first and only time I had heard of salades being used that way. Thanks for the reinforcement, Ken!

  4. I have another language usage question for anyone who might be interested in offering info-- it regards using the faire causatif:

    The gist of my question is whether or not one can use (interchangeably), the prepositions à and par to introduce the person who is being made or asked to do the action. Can you often use either one? Or absolutely not? Or does it just cause a slight nuance in meaning?

    Here's what I mean-- the issue being having had Bob repair a car:

    Je l'ai fait réparer à Bob. vs
    Je l'ai fait réparer par Bob.

    And if both of those are acceptable, would they both be expressed with pronouns in this way:

    Je la lui ai fait réparer.

    Likewise, I've seen both chez and à used to express the following:

    Je l'ai fait réparer chez le garagiste.
    Je l'ai fait réparer au garagiste.

    Both meaning, I presume, I had it repaired at the garage / by the mechanic.



  5. One of my observations is that you do have to say things EXACTLY right, otherwise you are not understood, even with common expressions.

  6. These expressions are mostly of familiar use. Some of them are somewhat new, since I didn't know them or are regional in nature.

    Some of them were used by the Free French Forces in London during WWII to convey messages to the underground in occupied France. I remember very clearly les carottes sont cuites!

  7. Judy, I'm waiting for the francophones to answer your questions.

    Jean, it's as if you said about someone: "He was telling me histories!" Would that mean anything?

  8. All the expressions I put in my blog entry are ones I hear or have heard often.

    Remember, I arrived in France for the first in 1969, a few months after CHM left to go live in America. 40 years!

    C'est la fin des haricots ! Was that WWII also?

  9. Forgot to say that we heard these expressions over the radio program brodcasted from London: Les Français parlent aux Français.

  10. Judy, I was hoping Ken, who is much more savvy than I am, would answer your questions. So be it!

    Here it goes:
    Je l'ai fait réparer à Bob might be correct [I have my doubts], but it is very awkward, whereas Je l'ai fait réparer par Bob would be the one I'd use. Ideally, both are interchangeable and mean the same thing [if the first one is correct].

    Since we know that you're talking about Bob, the garagiste, and a car, or whatever feminine object in French, I'd chose Je la lui ai fait réparer as being the best.

    I'd say J'ai demandé à Bob de la réparer, but then you don't use the faire causatif! LOL!

    Chez and au is quite a different story. They are NOT interchangeable IMHO.

    Je l'ai fait réparer chez le garagiste means you took your car to the garage where SOMEBODY repaired it.

    Je l'ai fait réparer au garagiste [awkward, see above], would be better said Je l'ai fait réparer par le garagiste. That would mean to most people the owner of the garage was the one who repaired it.

    For instance, most people are mistaken in saying: Je vais au médecin instead of Je vais chez le médecin. In husbandry, you would say Je mène la vache au taureau, for what you guess, and not Je mène la vache chez le taureau [for a cup of tea?]. LOL/MDR

    P.S. It seems to me you can't use à or au with a person, à Bob, au médecin, but you can with some other entity, au garage, à l'hôpital. Conversely you use chez with peole.

  11. I thought "j'ai fait réparer ma voiture par Bob" instead of "...à Bob" sounded more natural, but then I never know if what I'm saying is just based on English. In fact, it doesn't matter, because "...par Bob" would be perfectly understandable anyway. So I don't worry about it too much. My gauge now is whether people look puzzled when I say something.

    I always stumble over sentences like "je vais faire mes course à Intermarché" or "...chez Intermarché." After all, Intermarché doesn't live there. You don't go buy something "chez BHV" in Paris, but here people do, I know, buy things "chez Intermarché" or "chez Gamm Vert" — is that an idiotisme?

    Moi je vais soigneusement "chez" le médecin and "chez" le dentiste — jamais "au" ... even though I don't go to visit them at home, but for an appointment at their office.

  12. L'usage est flottant pour à Monoprix ou chez Monoprix. However, since we work in two languages we may be influenced by one into the other and vice versa.
    I still think the right way is to say Je vais à ou au Monoprix, à Intermarché [with this one à le wouldn't really work] or à ou au SuperU. You would say Je vais au supermarché and not Je vais chez le supermarché.

  13. OK, let's just admit it - we all thought that "to have the banana" one was going somewhere else...

  14. Yeah, well wouldn't you just... Ha Ha Ha.

  15. Judy and all, I would say:

    "Je dépose ma voiture au garage pour la faire réparer par Bob. Entre-temps je passe chez mon coiffeur et je lui demande de couper mes cheveux. Ensuite je passe chez mon docteur qui va prendre ma tension".


  16. By the way, the Robert dictionary gives "les carottes cuites" as early as 1878:

    Loc. fam. (1878, avoir ses carottes cuites «être mourant»). Les carottes sont cuites : tout est fini, perdu (- C'est la fin des haricots*).

  17. Not being a grammarian, it is difficult for me to explain exactly how I feel about the language.

    The more I think of it, the more I am convinced the sentence J'ai fait réparer ma voiture à Bob is absolutely incorrect. It is the use of A with FAIRE which is incorrect.

    If you substitute donner to faire, then it is OK. You can say J'ai donné à réparer my voiture à Bob. Because you can give something to somebody, but not make something to somebody.

    I think it is the same in English. You can say I had my car repaired by Bob, but, in my humble opinion, you cannot say I had my car repaired to Bob. LOL/MDR - QED.

  18. Thanks so much, everyone!

    Does the àseem to sound right in this context, or would you use par?:

    Tex fait chanter Tammy.
    Tex fait chanter la Marseillaise à Tammy.

    Tex has Tammy sing.
    Tex has Tammy sing the Marseillaise

    (These are examples from the University of Texas, Austin.)

  19. You can certainly substitute the pronoun lui in that second sentence:

    Tex lui fait chanter la Marseillaise (à Tammy).

    J'ai fait remarquer à quelqu'un que....

    for example. Je lui ai fait remarquer que...

  20. Judy, does this help at all:


    It seems like there is a difference in meaning with à and par. In other words, some verbs need par, as in:

    J'ai fait réparer ma voiture par Pierre.

    and others require à:

    J'ai fait visiter le musée aux enfants.

    In the first example, something is accomplished in different way from the in the second, don't you think?

  21. Hi Judy, I quit.

    Both examples are perfectly correct.

    May I suggest you try and find Le Bon Usage by Maurice Grevisse, the Belgian grammarian. It was my Bible when I was working. You'll find there several pages dedicated to the use of faire followed by an infinitive.

    So, disregard my previous comments and good luck.

  22. Bravo CHM, Ken and Martine!

  23. Judy, here's one more link on faire faire quelque chose à quelqu'un vs. faire faire quelque chose par quelqu'un.

    It looks like Messrs. Canning and Moody have done a study on this question and come up with guidelines. They have labeled the phenomenon "The Causative Triangle" and say: "A general guideline is offered as a reference point to choosing the appropriate preposition (a or par) for French causative sentences with faire. Full noun phrase complements of infinitives are treated." Maybe you can get the article from the ERIC organization.

  24. Thanks again to everyone! Ken, I'm going to check into that Eric document... I think I can get Eric documents at our school library.

    At least I feel justified in my confusion, since so many learned folks and native speakers encountered some, too!



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