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French expression of the day: Ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller

In French, the bold don't eat with the spoon turned upside down.

French expression of the day: Ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller?

This expression is a metaphor that might at first seem a bit obscure, but once you know what it means it's actually quite canny.

What does it mean?

Literally, ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller translates to 'not to go there with the back of the spoon'.

Aller in French is a versatile verb and its meaning changes slightly depending on the context (vas-y can for example mean 'go for it', 'do it,' or 'come on'). 

Here, aller is better translated to 'doing' something, so the more accurate translation would be 'not to do it with the back of the spoon'.

Imagine that you're eating soup with the hollow side of the spoon facing down. Naturally, every time you lift the spoon to your mouth, not much soup will follow the spoon and it will take you a whole lot longer to finish your bowl than if you turned your spoon the right way.

This seems like a pretty obscure metaphor. What's in the bowl? What is it that you're eating that makes you want to eat it with the wrong side of the spoon?

Imagine that you're having a family dinner and know politics is a sensitive issue that those around the dinner table strongly disagree on. Well, if you were to come straight out with your opinion that Emmanuel Macron should resign and then possibly be prosecuted for crimes against polo-neck sweaters, the person seated next to you might say, ho-ho, tu n'y vas pas avec le dos de la cuiller ! – ha, you're not sugar coating things!

Other English versions are 'calling a spade a spade' or 'not tiptoeing around the truth'.

However, ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller can also refer to an action, as in 'putting in a whole-hearted effort', 'going all the way', or 'throwing yourself into a task with full force'.

This expression is pretty exclusively used in the negative sense, so for instance you would not say j'y vais avec le dos de la cuiller to say 'I'm being cautious'.

Use it like this

Oh-là-là, quand il parle politique, il n'y va pas avec le dos de la cuiller. – Oh-la-la, when he talks about politics he's not sugar coating stuff.
Le défenseur a été très physique sur cette action, il n'y a pas été avec le dos de la cuiller. – The defender was really hands-on there, he went all in.
Quand elle décide de se mettre au boulot, elle n'y va pas avec le dos de la cuiller. – When she goes to work, she puts all her effort into it.

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French Expression of the Day: Ça tape

The long-range forecast suggests that this will be a handy phrase this summer.

French Expression of the Day: Ça tape

Why do I need to know ça tape?

Because you might want a way to describe the feeling of walking down a long boulevard with no shade in sight…or a techno concert.

What does it mean?

Ça tape usually pronounced sah tap – literally translates to ‘it taps’ or ‘it hits.’ The verb being used is taper, which means to hit or slap, and colloquially can be used to seek monetary support from someone. It is also the verb for ‘to type.’ But when spoken, this phrase does not involve violence, financial assistance, or note-taking.

Ça tape is a way to say ‘it’s scorching’ and complain about the hot weather or the search for shade. If someone uses it under a hot sun, and they say “ça tape”  or “ça tape fort” they’re referring to the particularly violent, piercing heat.

It can also be used to say something is intense, particularly in relation to music. It bears a similar colloquial meaning to the English informal phrase “it hits” or “it’s banging.” For example, you might be at a loud concert listening to a particularly passionate DJ – this might be a good scenario to employ ‘ça tape.’

The first meaning, which refers to the heat, is more commonly used across generations, whereas the second might be heard more from a younger audience. 

 Use it like this

Dès que je suis sortie de l’appartement et que je suis entrée dans la rue, j’ai dit “Ça tape !” car le soleil était si fort.– As soon as I stepped out of the apartment and into the street, I said to myself “it’s blazing!” because the sun was so strong.

Ce festival est incroyable, tout le monde est dans le même esprit. Ouh t’entends cette basse ? Ça tape !  – This festival is amazing, everyone is really in the same mood. Do you hear that bass? It’s banging.