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French word of the day: Couvade

The French language is rich with really specific words that describe basically anything or any state of mind and don't quite translate. This is one of them.

French word of the day: Couvade
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know couvade?

It might be a French word, but it is describing an international phenomenon. 

What does it mean?

You might be familiar with the phenomenon that in English is known as ‘sympathy pregnancy’, which describes the not-so-rare case of a man putting on weight alongside his pregnant partner.

Well, there is a word describing that process in French: couvade.

La couvade comes from syndrome de la couvade, which is something that apparently 20 percent of French men experience.

A man suffering from this will experience similar pregnancy symptoms to his partner (belly-growing, morning sickness, etc).

But simply saying couvade can be used in a lighter, more teasing way for men who gain weight while their partner is expecting.

So if your Missus is expecting and your French friend asks, eyes lingering on your belly, tu couves pas un peu? – ‘are we getting a bit of a belly?’ – you will know what it means.

One French dad of our acquaintance tells us that 'it's because you have to drink for two'. Hmmm.


Seeing as syndrome de la couvade is actually classed as a mental illness it is probably better to use another term if you want to poke fun at a male friend who has softened a bit around the edges during his partner's pregnancy.

Bide is a very common (and harmless) option.

On a pris un petit bide, non? – 'Have we grown a little belly?'

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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.