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French expression of the day: Caca nerveux

Fear not, this is not a literal expression.

French expression of the day: Caca nerveux
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know caca nerveux?

Because it's an hilarious expression that makes a lot of sense once you learn what it means.

What does it mean?

Caca is French for 'poo' and nerveux means 'nervous'. So faire un caca nerveux, which is the usual phrasing, means 'to do a nervous poo'.

It sounds like a metaphor for something you do when you're really anxious or scared, like feeling the urge to vomit just before a stage performance or an important exam.

But caca nerveux isn't really about being nervous, it means 'to freak out', 'get angry' or 'lash out' for little or no reason. 


The expression's origins are pretty funny. According to French online dictionary l'Internaute, it dates back to the 20th Century and is a reference to the red, seemingly angry face a baby makes when it struggles to poop.

The idea is that someone who does a caca nerveux is getting unnecessarily hotheaded usually without it having the wanted effect.

It is often used to shrug off criticism during an argument or to make the other side seem foolishly outraged.

As you might have understood from the origins of the expression, it's very colloquial and you should not use it if, say, your think your boss is being out of line or overly dramatic.

Use it like this

Tu fais encore ton caca nerveux ? – Are you still freaking out over nothing?

Je lui ai dit que je voulais une relation ouverte et il a commencé a me faire un caca nerveux. – I told him that I wanted an open relationship and he completely freaked out.

Si je ne rentre pas avant 21h ma femme va encore faire un caca nerveux. – If I don't get home before 9pm my wife is going to go mental again.


S'énerver fortement – get very annoyed

Faire un caprice – freak out

Pêter un cable – to freak out

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre en veilleuse

While it might look like this expression has to do with old-age, it does not.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre en veilleuse

Why do I need to know mettre en veilleuse ?

Because this phrase might look easily understandable at first glance, but it probably means something different than you might have expected.

What does it mean?

Mettre en veilleuse – roughly pronounced met-ruh ahn vay-yuhz – translates to “put on the small lamp.” 

However, the expression actually means something that is no longer a priority or is not going to happen imminently  – it’s similar to “put something on the backburner” or to “put something on hold” or “on standby” or (in Ireland) “put it on the long finger”.

A veilleuse is French for nightlight, or a small lamp one might put in the bedroom that stays on at a low brightness, but does not impede one from sleeping.

The expression, thus, was born from the idea that the light is almost in idle mode – available in the background, but not too noticeable. 

If directed at a person, this expression can be a way of telling them to be quiet or lower their town – to become less conspicuous. When used in this way, the phrase is more of an insult, so context is important when using mettre en veilleuse.

You might also see this phrase being used in French politics, if a person or subject has been put on the back burner, that means they were deliberately taken out of the limelight.

Use it like this

Ce n’était pas sa priorité, elle l’a donc mis en veilleuse pour le faire quand elle aurait du temps libre. – It was not her top priority, so she put it on the back burner to do when she had free time.

Le parti politique a déclaré qu’il avait des affaires plus urgentes à traiter, et a donc mis les questions des électeurs en veilleuse. – The political party claimed they had more pressing matters to attend to, so they put the voters’ questions on the back burner.