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.

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French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

You might do this while gardening or while reading the tabloids.

French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

Why do I need to know découvrir le pot aux roses?

Because if you enjoy celebrity gossip, then you probably will find good use for this phrase

What does it mean?

Découvrir le pot aux roses – pronounced day-coov-rear le pot-oh rose – literally translates to ‘to discover the pot of roses.’ 

You might use this expression when finding out about some exciting gossip or maybe when discovering what your partner secretly planned for your anniversary, as this phrase in actuality is what you would say when you learn something secret or hidden. 

In English, when discussing secrets, you might say someone has ‘spilled the beans’ or ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ but the French phrase is more about the person who has found out about the hidden item or truth, not the person who told it, as it ‘spill the beans’.

The origins of this French expression are not what you might expect, historically, the phrase has little to do with the flowers.

During the Middle Ages, the verb ‘découvrir’ had the meaning of ‘to lift a lid’ and at the time the phrase ‘pot aux roses’ referred to a small box that wealthy women used to store their perfumes, as well as their makeup. They often used these boxes to keep secrets, letters, or notes that they did not want others to stumble upon.

Use it like this

Pendant l’afterwork, Sarah a raconté à tout le monde les secrets les plus fous sur la vie privée du patron. Je ne comprends pas comment elle a réussi à découvrir le pot aux roses. – During the work happy hour, Sarah told us all about the wildest secrets of our boss’ personal life. I don’t understand how she managed to unearth that gossip.

Il a découvert le pot aux roses lorsqu’il s’est connecté à l’ordinateur de son colocataire pour regarder simplement son mail. – He discovered the secret when he logged onto his roommate’s laptop to just check his email.