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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French expression of the day: Avoir du pain sur la planche

In France, the country of baguette and cheese, having bread on your plate does not necessarily mean you're sitting down to enjoy a nice meal.

French expression of the day: Avoir du pain sur la planche
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know avoir du pain sur la planche?

Because the figurative meaning of the expression is very different from its literal meaning. 

What does it mean?

Avoir du pain sur la planche literally translates to 'having bread on your board', which is a very French way to say what the Anglophones call 'having a lot on your plate' (in the sense that you're busy).

It's quite interesting as an expression because the actual activity of having une planche in France calls to mind something completely different than being busy with work.

Ordering une planche is compulsory training for any newcomer in France. Une planche is a popular menu item the French like to order alongside a glass of wine after work.

It literally translates to 'a plank' or 'a board', which is a sorry way of describing what une planche actually is: a bread board topped with delicious goodness, usually charcuterie (slices of assorted hams), patés and/or soft fromage (cheese). 

A planche can be shared with others for a nibble, and it always comes with pain (bread) – a mandatory accessory to any food orders in France.

But back in the day, more specifically at the end of the 19th century when the expression originated, 'having bread on your plate' meant that you had enough reserves to keep going, according to the French online dictionary l'Internaute.

One explanation as to how the meaning of the expression changed was that, during the 20th century, bread was something given to those condemned to forced labour. 

Whatever the reason for the shift, the French today use avoir du pain sur la planche as a way to signal that they have a lot to do.

Use it like this

Je ne peux pas venir au bar ce soir, j'ai du pain sur la planche. – I can't come to the bar tonight, I've got a lot on my plate.

Profites bien de tes vacances, on aura du pain sur la planche à la rentrée ! – Enjoy your holiday, we'll have plenty to do when we get back to school!

Je dirais qu'il reste encore du pain sur la planche. – I'd say we still have work to do.

Synonyms

Avoir beaucoup de choses à faire – having a lot of things to do

 

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Being patronised by a Frenchman? Roll out this phrase.

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Why do I need to know ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines?

Because someone might be trying to take you for a fool.

What does it mean?

Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines – pronounced ne me pren pah pour un lapan de see sem-enn – translates as ‘don’t take me for a six-week-old rabbit’, and is a go-to phrase to warn people not to mistake you for a fool, someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The podcast Hit West from French regional newspaper Ouest-France suggests that the ‘six weeks’ comes from the age a rabbit is weaned at, and must therefore be ready to survive on its own.

And why a rabbit at all? Well no-one really seems very sure. Rabbits don’t get a good rap in the French language though, to stand someone up is poser un lapin in French.

English-language metaphor equivalents may be, “I didn’t come down in the last shower”, “I wasn’t born yesterday”, or, as Line of Duty’s DCI Hastings might say, “I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble”.

Use it like this

Honestly, keep it simple. If someone’s speaking to you in a patronising manner, simply say: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines.

Ouest France suggests that this is the ‘more elegant’ way to request that people don’t take you for a fool. It’s not offensive, but it might be a little old-fashioned. 

Alternatives

You can use the more basic version of this phrase – Ne me prends pas pour une idiote (don’t take me for a fool) or the slightly more punchy Ne me prends pas pour un con (don’t take me for a moron).

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