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French word of the day: C’est l’hôpital qui se fout de la charité

French word of the day: C'est l'hôpital qui se fout de la charité
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Why would a hospital be laughing at charity? This is one of those French expressions that doesn't translate literally.

Why do I need to know c'est l'hôpital qui se fout de la charité? 

Because it's an excellent snarky retort during an argument, be over household chores or geopolitical disputes.

What does it mean?

C'est l'hôpital qui se fout de la charité directly translates as 'it's the hospital that is mocking charity'.

Se foutre de is a colloquial way of saying se moquer de (to mock something)

Its actual meaning will seem a bit counterintuitive, at least for those not familiar with centuries old French medical history.

C'est l'hôpital qui se fout de la charité means that someone is criticising, mocking or ridiculing someone else for a flaw that they have themselves.

The English equivalent is 'the pot calling the kettle black' (because a cooking pot is usually more battered and stained than a kettle).

Origins

Back in the 12th century, an hôpital was a religious place dedicated to charity. Poor people and others in need could come to the hôpitaux to seek help and compassion. (In Latin, hospitalia means “guest room”.)

A few centuries later, in the 1800s, hôpital became a referral to actual medical establishments, which generally were run by religious orders. 

As 'hospital' and 'charity' were one and the same thing, a hospital that mocks charity was therefore mocking itself, which is the core of the expression today. 

A recent article in the French newspaper Canard Enchaîné is useful to illustrate the expression.

The report claims that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's cabinet had asked French President Emmanuel Macron to tell his Europe Minister Clément Beaune to stop tweeting about Brexit.

Titled “Sans humour British”, the Canard Enchaîné article, said the UK's request had “bien fait marrer” (cracked up) Macron's entourage, seeing as British media and politicians have not exactly been treading lightly when characterising their French counterparts. The UK was acting like a hospital mocking charity.

OPINION: Cheap French-bashing is an old tune from British press and politicians

Use it like this

Say your friend is having a go at you for arriving a few minutes late to your appointment, but usually they are the one to be notoriously late. You may exclaim C'est l'hôpital qui se fout de la charité – Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Or say your partner is nagging you for not having picked up your dirty socks from the floor, but you both know you were the one to vacuum every room in your home a couple of days back.

You can say: Tu dis que je ne fais pas assez de tâches ménagères ? Ah, c'est l'hôpital qui se fout de la charité. – Are you saying that I don't do enough housework? That's the pot calling the kettle black.

 


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