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French phrase of the day: Mettre du beurre dans les épinards

In France, you definitely want butter on your spinach.

French phrase of the day: Mettre du beurre dans les épinards
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know mettre du beurre dans les épinards?

Because a fun and useful food expression peppered with cultural lessons about France.

What does it mean?

Mettre du beurre dans les épinards directly translates as 'to put butter in the spinach', which is a food metaphor the French use for 'making more money' or 'improving one's way of life'.

It's difficult to translate directly, because it depends on the context, but the general idea is that spinach is dull and plain, and adding butter makes it better, tastier and richer.

So generally it means something along the lines 'it makes you/me/they/us richer and therefore improve your/mine/their/our quality of life'.

Beurre (butter) is a common metaphor for “money” or “wealth” in French – probably because it's rich in calories and used to be a luxury grocery back in the day, according to French online dictionary Expressio.

For example, faire son beurre (make your butter) means 'prosper' or 'earn money'. Another one is avoir le cul dans le beurre (having the arse in the butter), which is a very colloquial expression for 'having lots of money' (generally used about those born rich).

Mettre du beurre dans les épinards is however often used about those who don't earn a lot of money at the outset, so giving them more makes a lot of difference.

Use it like this

Le pourboire est essentiel pour les serveurs, ça met du beurre dans les épinards. – Tips are essential to waiters, it's what puts money in their pocket.

Si tu prends ce job, tu vas pouvoir mettre du beurre dans tes épinards. – If you take that job you'll be able to live better.

Ah, mais tu es chauffeur Uber en plus de ton activité principale ? / Oui, il faut bien mettre du beurre dans les épinards. – Ah, so you're an Uber driver on the side of your main job? / Yes, you very well have to make a living somehow.

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French Expression of the Day: Faire trempette

You'll definitely need this phrase as the temperature rises.

French Expression of the Day: Faire trempette

Why do I need to know faire trempette?

Because you might need this phrase to describe that urge to jump in the water once the temperature hits a certain degree this summer.

What does it mean?

Faire trempette – usually pronounced fair trahm-pet – literally means ‘to make dipping sauce’ because the word ‘trempette’ is actually a condiment, or a dip, typically used for raw vegetables. In Canada, the dip is popular, and quite similar to Ranch dressing – a great addition to your crudités (vegetable snacks). 

But this phrase does not have anything to do with your healthy finger-food – in the colloquial sense, the phrase faire trempette actually means to take a dip – as in to go swimming.  

The way the expression came to become about swimming and not eating is pretty logical – in the 1600s a ‘trempette’ was a slice of bread dipped in liquid. As time went on people started to say ‘faire la trempette’ to describe the action of dipping food in liquid – like bread into wine – prior to taking a bite.

It became the metaphorical way of talking about taking a very short bath in the 19th century and now it’s the best way to reference the urge to  splash around for a second before heading back to the lounge chairs to tan. 

While you may  not have heard of this phrase before, you’ve definitely heard its synonym: the verb ‘se baigner’ (‘to bathe,’ but more so used as ‘to swim’). 

Use it like this

Comme la température augmente, je suis encore plus tentée d’aller faire trempette dans le canal. – As the temperature gets higher, I am even more tempted to go take a dip in the canal. 

Je pense que je vais faire trempette et ensuite m’allonger pour bronzer au soleil pendant un moment. – I think I will take a dip and then lay out to tan for a bit.