French expression of the day: Couilles dans le vin rouge

Want to start April with a very traditional French expression? We've fished one out for you*.

French expression of the day: Couilles dans le vin rouge
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know couilles dans le vin rouge?

Because life will get good again and when it does you might need this.

What does it mean?

Its literal translation is 'testicles in the red wine' but it really means that things are going pretty well.

It's not the only testicle related French phrase available, of course, but most of them signify something bad.

Il ya une couille dans le potage means 'there is a testicle in the soup' and is used to signify that something is amiss. It's roughly the French equivalent of 'Houston, we have a problem'.

Likewise a casse-couille (a ball-break) means something that is massive annoyance (try casse-tête or headache for a slightly more family friendly version).

By contrast couilles dans le vin rouge, although it sounds uncomfortable and a waste of fine red wine, is used to signify that everything is good, maybe equivalent of being 'in clover' or 'as happy as a hog in shit'.

Like most good French phrases, this one can be traced back to Napoleon. 

The diminutive French ruler apparently – when in a good mood – used to like pranking his soldiers by dipping his balls in their vin rouge. Well those were some long military campaigns he was on.

So when you're tucking into your traditional April fish and generally feeling good about life, you might want to tell someone Oui, tout va bien, j'ai les couilles dans le vin rouge – 'yeh, everything's fine, I've got my balls in the red wine'.

As is hopefully clear this is an informal phrase, so if you're ever invited over to the Elysée Palace for dinner and Brigitte Macron asks if you're enjoying your meal it would be best not to tell her that your balls are in red wine.

Or even in white wine, come to that.

By Olaf Pirol



* Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted this reference to a poisson d'avril (April fish) otherwise known as an April Fool.

Yes, that's right – people in France do not regularly tell others that they have their balls in red wine and as far as we know Napoleon never dipped his testicles in wine of any colour.
The expression il y une couille dans le potage is real however, as is telling someone ce confinement est tellement casse-couille – this lockdown is a real ballache.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Les plus modestes

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with provocative dress or bragging about your achievements.

French Expression of the Day: Les plus modestes

Why do I need to know les plus modestes ?

Because you might want to understand why “the most modest” are always called out in government announcements and in articles

What does it mean?

Les plus modestes – roughly pronounced lay ploos moe-dests – literally translates to “the most modest.” 

At first glance, this phrase in French might be misleading for anglophones because “modest” is a bit of a false-friend.

In English, one might think of a Jane Austen character who is very respectable and never shows too much skin, or perhaps just someone who is very self-deprecating about their own achievements.

But in the French phrase, les plus modestes means people who are on low incomes or generally don’t have much money.

You might also see the phrase “les ménages modestes” (low-income households). 

You will often hear this term when the French government or press are discussing subsidy plans or budgeting efforts to assist low-income families.

It’s different to les plus fragiles – which is also often used in government announcements but refers to people who vulnerable for health reasons, such as the elderly or people with long-term medical conditions.

Use it like this

Pour protéger les plus modestes, le gouvernement a annoncé une subvention spécifique pour aider à payer l’énergie. – To protect the most vulnerable households, the government has announced a specific subsidy to help pay for energy.

Même avec les interventions du gouvernement, l’inflation touchera surtout les plus modestes. – Even with government interventions, inflation will impact low-income households the most.