For members


French expression of the day: Pot-de-vin

Don't get too excited, this rarely has anything to do with delicious French wine.

French expression of the day: Pot-de-vin
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know pot-de-vin?

Because it's common and you might, if you don't know its meaning, confuse it with a nice gift.

What does it mean?

Directly translated, pot-de-vin becomes ‘pot-of-wine’ in English, so you might get excited the first time you hear someone talk about it in France.

However this has nothing to do with actual jugs of wine. Pot-de-wine actually is the French term for ‘bribe’.

In French, payer (pay), donner (give), verser (pay) un pot-de-vin all mean to illegally bribe someone.

Similarly, recevoir (receive), toucher (get) or accepter (accept) un pot-de-vin means 'taking a bribe'.

Un pot-de-vin can be a gifts offered in secret to a government official, illegal payments or money transfers – anything that goes under the broad term 'bribe'.

Pots-de-vin is plural for 'bribes'.


Pot-de-vin originated back in the 16th Century, when verser un pot de vin referred to donner un pourboire (to tip someone), according to French online dictionary l'Internaute.

In those days, actually offering a waiter a drink was common in French culture, a gesture that acknowledged the receiver as equally privileged in that they too were allowed to relax with a drink.

Back then, there was nothing illegal about a pot-de-vin, but the expression later changed meaning and today it means that something dodgy is or has been going on under the counter.

Use it like this

Il semble qu’on lui a versé des pots-de-vin depuis plusieurs années. – It looks like he’s been receiving bribes for several years.

C'est dommage pour l'equipe de foot. Leur meilleur joueur est accusé d'avoir touché un pot-de-vin en échange de se prendre volontairement un carton jaune lors du dernier match. – It's a shame for the football team. Their best player is accused of having taken a bribe to voluntarily get a yellow card during the last match.

Ceci est clairement une affaire de pot-de-vin. – This is clearly a bribery case.


Dessous-de-table – under-the-table (bribe)

Cadeau illégal – illegal gift

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

This expression doesn't actually have much to do with lunchtime.

French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Why do I need to know chercher midi à quatorze heures?

Because when someone makes what should take fifteen minutes into an hour-long effort, you might want an appropriate phase.

What does it mean?

Chercher midi à quatorze heures – usually pronounced share-shay-mid-ee-ah-cat-orz-ur – literally means “to look for noon at 2 pm.” When taken literally, the expression does not make much sense. However, in practice, it means “to make a simple thing overly complicated.” It is basically the French equivalent of “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

The expression is quite old, but it is still in use…though it might be more common to find it spoken in the countryside rather than on Twitter.

It was first used as early as the 16th century – the version then was “to look for noon at eleven.” As time went on, it changed to reflect its current form in the 17th century. 

As noon is an important marker for the middle of the day, particularly as l’heure de déjeuner (lunch time), the expression makes fun of making something overly difficult. 

You’ll most likely hear this in the negative command form – as it is something you should probably avoid doing.

Use it like this

Pourquoi avoir pris la route la plus longue pour aller au supermarché ? Ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures. – Why take the longest route to get to the supermarket? Don’t overcomplicate things.

Tu n’as pas besoin d’essayer toutes les lettres de l’alphabet pour trouver le Wordle. C’est mieux de penser à des mots simples. Ne cherche pas midi à quatorze heures. – You don’t need to try every letter in the alphabet to get the Wordle. Just think of simple words. Don’t over complicate it.