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French word of the day: Pousser mémé dans les orties

No grannies were harmed in the making of this expression.

French word of the day: Pousser mémé dans les orties
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know pousser mémé dans les orties ?

Because you will often meet people who need to hear that.

What does it mean ?

Pousser mémé dans les orties can be translated into English as ‘to push granny in the nettles’.

Mémé is a familiar term for granny, although these days mamie is a more common alternative to the formal grand-mère.

The expression is always used in its negative form, which gives faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties (don't push granny in the nettles).

It was originally used simply as faut pas pousser, meaning ‘do not exaggerate’, and the rest of the expression was added in order to make it more colourful and emphasise the meaning.

It's now more commonly used to mean 'don't push it' or 'don't go too far' for someone whose behaviour is teetering on the brink of crossing the line. 

For example, if your sister borrowed your stuff without telling you and also stole your pocket money, you could have said faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties.

Use it like this

On ne s’est pas parlé pendant des mois, et il m’a appelée pour qu’on se remette ensemble.Faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties – We haven’t talked in months and he just called to ask me to take him back, that’s pushing it!

Je me suis occupé de son déménagement et maintenant elle veut que j’aille faire ses courses, faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties ! – I took care of her house move and now she wants me to go grocery shopping for her, she’s going a bit far!


C’est fort de café ! – That’s pushing it!

Pousser le bouchon – To push the boundaries

Abuser de la gentillesse de quelqu’un – To take advantage of somebody’s kindness

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For members


French Expression of the Day: À poil

Some people prefer to sleep like this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: À poil

Why do I need to know à poil ?

Because if someone invites you to come to a beach like this and you don’t know the meaning of this expression, then you might be in for a bit of a surprise.

What does it mean?

À poil – roughly pronounced ah pwahl – is an expression that makes use of the French word for an animal’s fur or its coat. A synonym might be fourrure. However, the expression as it has come to be used does not have to do with animals’ coats – it actually means to be naked. 

How a phrase referring to animal’s fur came to signify nakedness goes all the way back to the 17th century and the world of horseback-riding. At the time, one could either ride a horse with a saddle or cover (blanket), or you could ride bareback. The phrase for doing so was monter l’animal à cru (“à cru” meaning ‘bare’ or ‘raw’) which became monter un cheval à poil – to ride the horse with only its fur.

In this case, the horse was seen as naked (lacking its saddle or blanket), and over time the idea of the naked horse transferred over to naked people. 

The phrase is slightly crude – you wouldn’t use it to describe nude artworks – but not offensive, it’s roughly similar to describing someone as “butt naked” or “bollock naked” in English. The more polite way to say this might be “tout nu” (totally naked).

If you are looking for another way to say ‘birthday suit’ in French you could use “en costume d’Adam” (in Adam’s suit – a Biblical reference to the naked inhabitants of the Garden of Eden). 

Use it like this

Je me suis mise pas mal à poil dernièrement, mais ce n’est pas un délire exhibo et, dans la vie, c’est plus compliqué – I’ve been getting naked quite a bit lately, but it’s not an exhibitionist thing, life is more complicated than that. – From an interview about nude scenes with the French actress Virgine Efira.

Je préfère dormir à poil en été. Il fait vraiment trop chaud ! – I prefer sleeping totally naked in the summer. It is really too hot!