French expression of the day: Pot-de-vin

French expression of the day: Pot-de-vin
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Don't get too excited, this rarely has anything to do with delicious French wine.

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'.

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:


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

Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.