Contribute something productive you reprobate!!

The leading English language magazine. Now covering Poitou-Charentes, Dordogne, Vendée and Haute-Vienne too!

Living magazine distribution map

Pardon? Harvest time expressions

Pardon? Harvest time expressions

Emma-Jane Lee, our language expert, takes her pick of French expressions at harvest time.

The harvest moon may be a time of plenty, and it’s true that it brings us plenty of expressions as well. You might have thought I’d be grasping at straws to find expressions about crops but they’re definitely ripe for the picking. The rewards will certainly be yours to harvest.

Like English, French has many expressions with straw, la paille. Some are very similar: in English, you draw the short straw and in French on tire à la courte paille. There are many others that are a little different. For instance, you can say “c’est une paille!” which literally means “it’s a straw!” This expression means two things: a tiny amount, or an enormous amount. If someone tells you they’ve been in France for une paille, they could have been here days, or they could have been here for what feels like ages. Often, you will find people use it for time, but not always.

Another expression you might want to use if you know someone quick to find fault in others is “It’s the straw and the beam”, c’est la paille et la poutre. This refers to the speck and the log in the Bible and when you see the whole expression, it makes much more sense: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own?” Quite a lot simpler as c’est la paille et la poutre!

You may also hear of a straw fire, un feu de paille. A straw fire doesn’t burn for very long and so this means something akin to “here today, gone tomorrow” or a one-hit wonder, a flash in the pan.

La paille is also used to mean people are down to their last few pence, or that they’re really poor. If someone is sur la paille it means they’re living in misery. They have hit rock bottom. If you’re sleeping on straw, you’re really living in extreme poverty. If you hear of someone who “died on the straw” or mourir sur la paille, they died penniless.

You can also use wheat if you want to talk about money. In fact, le blé or “wheat” is an informal way of saying cash. If you say someone eats unripe wheat, il mange son blé en herbe, it means spending money up front before getting anything back in return.

If straw and wheat can refer to money and financial situations, hay can as well. Le foin can be used with the expression “he has hay in his boots” avoir du foin dans ses bottes which means somebody is absolutely loaded, although the expression is a little dated.

The seeds themselves also give us plenty to talk about. As in English we can say someone is a bad seed, une mauvaise graine. If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, you can say séparer le bon grain de l’ivraie which means exactly the same thing. If someone is a little crazy, you might say il a un grain. Quite why someone would have a grain if they were a little cuckoo is anybody’s guess. Mind you, we can say “he’s nuts!” which I suppose is just as strange.

If someone needs to learn a lesson from their actions, you might tell them Prends-en de la graine. We’d say, “let that be a lesson to you!” You can use it as a comparison with someone who does things well to say, “take a leaf from their book”.

Flour, la farine, is also used in French expressions, such as rouler quelqu’un dans la farine. This expression which literally means to roll someone in flour is more usually used to mean that someone had the wool pulled over their eyes. You tricked someone or pulled a fast one. You can also say de la même farine if you want to say that two people share the same qualities (and the same faults!) as we might say in English, “cut from the same cloth”, though you can also use this expression to mean that two things are equal; there’s no difference between them.

Hopefully now you have all these expressions, it’s not been the straw that broke the camel’s back and you’ve been able to sort the wheat from the chaff. Where language is concerned, you definitely reap what you sow. Now go and make hay whilst the sun shines!