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French expression of the day: À quoi bon

Is this French expression the very essence of 2020?

French expression of the day: À quoi bon
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know à quoi bon?

Because it's an expression that captures the spirit of 2020.

What does it mean?

If you have tried to translate 'what's the point' as quel est le but in French, you are likely not alone – but it's not the right way to go.

This is:

À quoi bon ? – What's the point?

À quoi bon can be a confusing expression because it, to foreign ears, sounds like aqua bon, which in turn sounds like some kind of special water drink. It's directly translated to 'at what good', which doesn't clear things up much either.

But once you get the hang of it, à quoi bon is pretty catchy.

It's a great way to express exasperation or fatigue when things seem a bit pointless (which, let's be honest, they frequently have this past year).

Use it like this

À quoi bon de se forcer à faire du sport à la maison lorsque c'est bientôt Noël et on va prendre du poids en bouffant de toute façon. – What's the point in forcing ourselves to exercise at home when it's nearly Christmas and we'll all gain weight by eating anyway.
À quoi bon regarder le discours de Macron. Ce n'est pas comme s'il va mettre fin au confinement. – What's the point in watching Macron's speech. It's not like he will put an end to lockdown.
On fait à dîner ? À quoi bon, cette pandémie m'a coupé l'appétit. – Shall we make dinner? What's the point, this pandemic has stolen my appetite. 

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French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Surprisingly, this phrase has nothing to do with beekeeping.

French Expression of the Day: Faire son miel

Why do I need to know faire son miel?

Because you might want to describe how you were able to buy a new wardrobe after the airline lost your luggage.

What does it mean?

Faire son miel – usually pronounced fair soan mee-ell – literally means to make your honey, or to make your own honey. In practice, this phrase actually means to take advantage of a situation, usually by turning a profit or to get the most out of a situation. 

The phrase comes from the idea that bees are actually profiteers: they take advantage of flowers in order to make honey. In the 16th century, this phrase was first put into use, and it followed the idea that bees fly up to the innocent flowers and steal their nectar and pollen for their own purposes. People began to use this as a way to describe people who take advantage of others or particular situations for their own benefit, or those who take things that do not belong to them.

Though the phrase is tied to the idea of turning a situation around for your own benefit, it is does not necessarily have a negative connotation. It can be used both for physical profit, or intellectual. It is somewhat similar to the English phrase of ‘making lemonade from lemons’ – taking a bad situation and making something good out of it.

In fact, French actually has another phrase that is quite similar to this one: faire son beurre, which is potentially even older than faire son miel

Use it like this

La compagnie aérienne a perdu nos sacs, avec tous nos vêtements dedans. Nous avons pu faire notre miel de la situation et acheter un nouvel ensemble de meilleurs vêtements avec l’argent de la compagnie aérienne! – The airline lost our bags, with all our clothes inside. We were able to take advantage of the situation by buying a whole new wardrobe on their dime!

Les oiseaux font leur miel de tous les nouveaux arbres plantés dans la ville. Ils profitent de ce nouvel espace pour faire leurs nids. – The birds are taking advantage of all the new trees being planted across the city. They are enjoying the new space to build their nests.

Le politicien a fait son miel des fonds supplémentaires et en a utilisé une partie pour son propre projet de construction. Ils pourraient le mettre en procès pour corruption. – The politician took advantage of the extra public funds for his own construction project. They might put him on trial for corruption.