French Expression of the Day: ‘Avoir la patate’

When someone tells you "j'ai la patate" it has nothing to do with them having a potato. In fact it's got more to do with beans.

French Expression of the Day: 'Avoir la patate'
Photo: Deposit Phoos
Why have we chosen it?
You'll hear this punchy expression quite often (hopefully) but it's one of those phrases that you just need to know in order to understand it. Guessing won't be of any use with this one…
So, what does it mean?
The reason why it's tricky is because “avoir la patate” literally means “to have a potato”.
The French using the “patate” as an informal word for “pomme de terre” meaning “potato”. 
But of course the French aren't regularly going around telling people they have a potato. 
In fact “avoir la patate” (in its infinitive form) is more to do with beans than spuds because it means to be full of them, in other words be on great form or in a great mood.
So, you'll hear people in France telling each other “j'ai la patate” when they are really up for it. And you can also use it in the negative form when you want to say you are not really on form – “je n'ai pas le patate”.
It's one of those colloquial expressions that brings a smile to people's faces and will make you sound very French if you use it. 
Some sources date this expression to the beginning of the 20th century due to the fact that the potato has a round shape, like a person's head, it came to mean that someone has a healthy head and by extension is on good form.
1. Elle avait la patate jusqu'au coup de téléphone de sa banque.
She was feeling great until the bank called.
2. Pauvre Jacques, il n'a pas la patate aujourd'hui.
Poor Jacques, he's not feeling too great, he's a bit down today.
Other versions of this expression are “avoir la frite” (to have a chip) and “avoir la pêche” (to have a peach) which mean exactly the same thing.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.