For members


French word of the day: Cadeau empoisonné

This is something we have all done, so it is time to learn the French version.

French word of the day: Cadeau empoisonné
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know cadeau empoisonné ?

Because this expression will help you illustrate your evil side. 

What does it mean ?

The expression is composed of cadeau, which means ‘gift’, and empoisonné, meaning ‘poisoned’.

So a cadeau empoisonné is literally a poisoned gift. Obviously, it is not exactly nice.

It is a figurative way of saying that you are getting rid of something annoying, boring or difficult by passing it on somebody else, the English would be to hand someone a poisoned chalice.

But here is the subtlety of cadeau empoisonné – you present the situation as if you were doing a favour to the person, to hide your real intentions. The person to whom you’ve given the cadeau empoisonné will first be thankful for the responsibility you’ve entrusted them with, until they realise why you did that. But it will be too late. 

For example, when French Health minister Agnès Buzyn left her post at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis (because she has to take over from a Paris mayoral candidate with a certain online video) her replacement Olivier Véran received a big promotion – and an enormous challenge to deal with. He got a real cadeau empoisonné.

Use it like this

Confier toute l’organisation au stagiaire la veille de la réunion était un cadeau empoisonné – Putting all of the organisation in the intern’s hands the day before the meeting was a poisoned chalice.

J’ai hérité de la maison de ma tante mais il faut faire beaucoup de travaux, c’est un vrai cadeau empoisonné – I inherited of my aunt’s house but there is a lot of construction work to do, it’s more of a curse than a blessing.


Refiler la patate chaude à quelqu’un – To pass the hot potato on to someone

Refiler le bébé à quelqu’un – to pass the buck to someone

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For members


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.