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French expression of the Day: Une histoire à dormir debout

French expression of the Day: Une histoire à dormir debout
Is it possible to sleep while standing because of a story? Well according to the French, yes it is.

Why do I need to know une histoire à dormir debout?

Because you have heard and will hear plenty of unlikely stories in your life and probably will be hearing plenty more (especially if you make the mistake of listening to politicians).

What does it mean?

Une histoire à dormir debout literally translates as 'a story to sleep while standing' but it is used as a colloquial expression to describe a hard-to-believe story or anecdote. 

In short, anything that you would call nonsense or baloney would qualify as une histoire à dormir debout.

It's more or less similar to the English expression “a cock and bull story”. 

For example: Pour masquer ses erreurs, il a raconté des histoires à dormir debout – To hide his failures, he told some cock and bull story. 

Origins

This expression has been used since the 17th century but its meaning has evolved since then. In the past, une histoire à dormir debout designated a very boring story, one that you would fall asleep while listening to, even if you ere standing up. 

Alternatives

Une histoire qui ne tient pas debout – a story that doesn’t stand up.

This sounds similar but has a slightly different meaning. It's a story that you would be ready to believe it but there is definitely something fishy in it that warrants further investigation.

For example: Je suis désolé Monsieur, mais votre histoire ne tient pas debout – I am sorry Sir, but your story doesn’t stand up.

Raconter des bobards – To talk baloney

Raconter des salads – To talk rubbish


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