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

French expression of the day: Mettre la clé sous la porte
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Putting your keys under the door also has a figurative meaning in French, and it's not a cheerful one.

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. 

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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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