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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.

French expression of the Day: Une histoire à dormir debout

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. 


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. 


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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French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with beekeeping.

French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Why do I need to know faire son miel?

Because you might want to describe how you were able to buy a new wardrobe after the airline lost your luggage.

What does it mean?

Faire son miel – usually pronounced fair soan mee-ell – literally means to make your honey, or to make your own honey. In practice, this phrase actually means to take advantage of a situation, usually by turning a profit or to get the most out of a situation. 

The phrase comes from the idea that bees are actually profiteers: they take advantage of flowers in order to make honey. In the 16th century, this phrase was first put into use, and it followed the idea that bees fly up to the innocent flowers and steal their nectar and pollen for their own purposes. People began to use this as a way to describe people who take advantage of others or particular situations for their own benefit, or those who take things that do not belong to them.

Though the phrase is tied to the idea of turning a situation around for your own benefit, it is does not necessarily have a negative connotation. It can be used both for physical profit, or intellectual. It is somewhat similar to the English phrase of ‘making lemonade from lemons’ – taking a bad situation and making something good out of it.

In fact, French actually has another phrase that is quite similar to this one: faire son beurre, which is potentially even older than faire son miel

Use it like this

La compagnie aérienne a perdu nos sacs, avec tous nos vêtements dedans. Nous avons pu faire notre miel de la situation et acheter un nouvel ensemble de meilleurs vêtements avec l’argent de la compagnie aérienne! – The airline lost our bags, with all our clothes inside. We were able to take advantage of the situation by buying a whole new wardrobe on their dime!

Les oiseaux font leur miel de tous les nouveaux arbres plantés dans la ville. Ils profitent de ce nouvel espace pour faire leurs nids. – The birds are taking advantage of all the new trees being planted across the city. They are enjoying the new space to build their nests.

Le politicien a fait son miel des fonds supplémentaires et en a utilisé une partie pour son propre projet de construction. Ils pourraient le mettre en procès pour corruption. – The politician took advantage of the extra public funds for his own construction project. They might put him on trial for corruption.