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French word of the day: Crève-coeur

A eloquent expression of sadness has a distinctly grisly origin.

French word of the day: Crève-coeur
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know crève-cœur ?

Because French people do not only use the word cœur to be romantic.

What does it mean ?

The word is composed of the verb crever, which means to break and cœur, meaning heart.

So a crève-cœur is something that gives you a lot of pain, something that breaks your heart.

The expression is also associated with regrets, when you lose something very important to you for example.

Even though the heart is very symbolic for love and compassion, the expression originally  refers to butchery, as hearts usually bleed the most (apparently).

Use it like this

Voir son café fermer à cause de la pandémie est un véritable crève-cœur pour le propriétaire – Having to close his café because of the pandemic is heartbreaking for the owner.

Elle a dû vendre la maison de ses parents, ça a été un crève-cœur – She had to sell her parents’ house, it was a a real heartache.


Désarroi – Distress

Chagrin – Sorrow

Affliction – Affliction

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For members


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.