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French expression of the day: Cul dans les ronces

In France, butts in the brambles mean there's still work left to do.

French expression of the day: Cul dans les ronces
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know cul dans les ronces?

Because it's a funny expression that you're actually allowed to use in a serious discussion.

What does it mean?

Cul dans les ronces translates to 'arse in the brambles', and is an expression the French use to say when something is not done, or still work left to do or 'not out of the woods yet' for a more pastoral English expression.

Logically enough, no one wants to have their buttocks stuck in thorny bramble bushes, so it's a quite vivid symbol of somewhere you don't want to be.

The French definition of cul dans les ronces is ne pas être sorti d'une mauvaise situation, or avoir encore beaucoup à faire – 'not having got out of a bad situation', 'having a lot left to do'.

The French daily Libération recently published a much-shared article with the title Cul dans les ronces, by a doctor outlining what he said was France's current stance before a second wave of Covid-19 infections. Cul dans les ronces here referred to France not having learnt from previous mistakes, according to the author.


An English equivalent would be 'not yet out of the woods', and if you say cul sorti des ronces (which seems to be even more commonly used), it means exactly that. 'Arse out of the brambles'.

Use it like this

There really aren't a million ways of using the expression, you can use either cul dans les ronces or cul sorti des ronces, but the two don't change depending on the pronoun or tense.

J'ai l'impression qu'on n'a pas le cul sorti des ronces – I feel like we still have a lot of work left to do.

Ils avaient le cul dans les ronces. – They were stuck.

Le déménagement est vendredi et on n'a encore rien emballé, on n'a pas sorti le cul des ronces. – We are moving on Friday and we still have nothing packed up. We haven't gotten to it yet.

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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.