French expression of the day: Mettre la clé sous la porte

Putting your keys under the door also has a figurative meaning in French, and it's not a cheerful one.

French expression of the day: Mettre la clé sous la porte
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know mettre la clé sous la porte?

A lot of businesses in France worry about this happening to them soon due to the negative impact Covid-19 continues to have on their economy.

What does it mean?

Mettre la clé sous la porte translates as 'to put the key under the door'.

The expression is however used figuratively and does not entail actually pushing a set of keys underneath a door – it's a metaphor for 'stopping an activity' or going out of business.

Most often the expression is used about 'going bankrupt' – faire faillite.

Visually it makes sense, seeing as if your business goes bankrupt you won't be needing the key anymore. You are in effect locking up forever. 

At its origins in the 15th century, the expression was used about making a discreet exit – today known as filer à l'anglaise – which  resonates with the idea of silently locking up the shop for the last time.

Use it like this

Finalement ils ont dû mettre la clé sous la porte début septembre – In the end they had to shut up shop in early September.

Si ça continue comme ça, toutes les boîtes de nuit vont mettre la clé sous la porte. – If it continues like this, all the nightclubs will be out of business. 

Depuis qu'un centre commercial a été installé dans la ville, la plupart des petits commerçants ont mis la clé sous la porte. – Since they built a mall in the centre most of the city's small shop owners have gone bust.

Clé or clef?

Both work. Clé is the a bit more modern, but you can use either today.

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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.