French word of the day: Cadeau empoisonné

French word of the day: Cadeau empoisonné
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This is something we have all done, so it is time to learn the French version.

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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