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French expression of the day: Ce n’est pas sorcier

Need to get sarcastic with someone in French? Here's a great expression for that.

French expression of the day: Ce n'est pas sorcier

Why do I need to know ce n'est pas sorcier?

Is there someone in your life that is over-complicating things and putting unnecessary obstacles in the way? This is what you need to tell them.

What does it mean?

In French un sorcier is a wizard (a witch is une sorcière). So for example Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone appeared in French as Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers (Harry Potter at the wizards' school).

So with ce n'est pas sorcier, or in its more slangy form c'est pas sorcier you're literally telling someone that it's not wizardry or not magic.

But it better translates as 'it's not rocket science' – ie you're telling the person that they're dumb and making something way too complicated.

So you could say Le changement climatique existe. C'est déprimant, mais ce n'est pas sorcier – Climate change exists. It's depressing, but it's not rocket science.

Accrocher les serviettes pour les faire sécher – c'est pas sorcier! – Hang the towels up to dry – it's not rocket science!

Or if you really want to unleash your fury onto someone who is putting unnecessary obstacles in your way Comme je l'ai déjà dit, ce n'est pas sorcier, c'est très clair – as I already said, this is not rocket science, it's very simple.

As is hopefully clear, this is not a particularly polite phrase, it's sarcastic at best and downright offensive at worst so we wouldn't suggest using it unless you have exhausted all of the more reasonable forms of persuasion.

You will probably feel like using it repeatedly as you navigate your way through French bureaucracy, but it is unlikely to get your paperwork processed any faster, so it might be better to just swallow your rage, explain the situation again and then do some deep breathing exercises and go to your happy place. 



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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.