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French expression of the day: Tuer dans l’œuf

French expression of the day: Tuer dans l’œuf
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Why figuratively killing unborn chickens is a thing in France.

Why do I need to know tuer dans l’œuf?

Because it's not as cruel as it sounds and doesn't really concern eggs or chickens at all.

What does it mean?

Tuer dans l’œuf, which directly translates as 'to kill inside the egg', is the French way of saying 'nip it in the bud' or in a slightly more brutal English expression 'to strangle [an idea or a concept] at birth'.

Other variants of the expression include étouffer dans l'œuf, which means 'to strangle (something) inside the egg', or 'écraser dans l'œuf', which means 'to crush (something) inside the egg'.

All these are – quite visual – ways of saying that something is stopped before it could develop into its true potential, the metaphor being a fertilised egg never turning into a chicken.

Origins

While tuer dans l'œuf seems to be the most common variant of the three, which one of them came first is uncertain.

According to French online dictionary Expressio, the renowned French author Victor Hugo first used the expression écraser dans l'œuf, back in 1830.

A century later, French language guardian Académie Française put it in their dictionary in 1932.

Use it like this

Une contestation sociale commence à émerger, il faut la tuer dans l'œuf avant qu'elle ne se transforme en révolution. – A social protest movement is beginning to develop, we need to nip it in the bud before it transforms into a revolution.

Il y a une rumeur qui commence circule disant qu'il a trompé sa femme. On doit la tuer dans l'œuf, sinon il ne sera jamais élu. – There's a rumour that is beginning to circulate saying that he's cheating on his wife. We need to nip it in the bud, otherwise he'll never be elected.

J'ai à peine eu le temps d'expliquer mon idée, que la direction l'a toute suite tuée dans l'œuf. – I barely had the time to explain my idea before the bosses killed it.


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