French Word of the Day: Croûton

While you may know the primary meaning of this word, 'croûton' can actually mean several things for French people. Do you know them all?

French Word of the Day: Croûton

Why do I need to know croûton?

Croûton has three meanings in the French language, and one of them is not related to bread at all.

So, what does it mean?

As in English, a croûton is a small piece of rebaked bread that you can add to a salad or a soup. 

Peux-tu préparer les croûtons pour le dîner, s'il te plaît? – Can you prepare some croutons for dinner, please?

But croûton is also used to talk about both ends of a baguette. In the two cases, the word derives from the word croûte – crust – and describes hard pieces of bread. The word quignon is also quite widespread in the South of France, but people will understand you no matter which word you choose. 

Il mange toujours le croûton sur le chemin du retour de la boulangerie. – He always eats the crouton on his way back from the bakery.

Unsplash/ Jonathan Farber

Why should I be careful?

When associated to the adjective vieux however, the word becomes quite pejorative. Vieux croûton does not only mean that the croutons you baked have been lying around for too long.

This expression is mainly used to describe old men who have an outdated vision of life and society, dinosaurs basically. 

Elle est amie avec ce vieux croûton? – She is friend with this old codger? 

There are absolutely no version of this expression applying to women – as much as you would love to, you cannot call an old lady vieille croûton. 

While this is 99 percent of the time aimed at old people, the expression also applies to anyone a bit too conservative for your taste.




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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.