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French phrase of the day: Casser du sucre sur le dos

French phrase of the day: Casser du sucre sur le dos
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Why, in France, breaking sugar on someone's back is not a very nice thing to do.

Why do I need to know casser du sucre sur le dos?

Because it's one of those many French funny food idioms that make no sense when you don't know them.

What does it mean?

Casser du sucre sur le dos directly translates as 'to break sugar on the back' (of someone), which sounds like an odd thing to do, like they are a sweet treat waiting for an extra layer of icing.

But in this case there's no actual sugar-throwing involved, it is merely metaphor for 'talking badly' about someone when they are not around to hear it. The full expression therefore translates as 'talking badly about someone behind their back'.

It's accompanied by de quelqu'un (by someone), although the 'someone' is generally specified depending on who is the target of the gossip.

Origins

Casser is French for to 'break' or 'destroy' something, be it through physical force or with words. Back in the day, sucrer (to sweeten) used to be slang for to 'mistreat' or 'mock'.

Back in the 17th Century, the expression se sucrer de quelqu'un meant 'taking someone for a fool', according to French online dictionary l'Internatute. Later casser du sucre became a common way of saying dire des ragots (spreading gossip). Sur le dos was then added to indicate that the gossip was about someone in particular, 'behind their back'.

Use it like this

Il faut toujours qu'il casse du sucre sur le dos de quelqu'un ! – He always has to slag someone off behind their back!

Je ne sais pas pourquoi tu casses du sucre sur le dos de Justine. Vaudrait mieux lui parler en personne. – I don't know why you're bitching behind Justine's back. It would be better to talk to her in person.  

J'avais l'impression qu'on m'avait cassé du sucre sur le dos samedi dernier lorsque je n'ai pas pu venir au dîner. – I had the impression that one had spoken badly about me behind my back last Saturday when I could not come for the dinner.

Synonym

Critiquer une personne en son ebsence – Criticising someone in their absence


Member comments

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  1. Se sucrer also means to take something unduly. Pendant son mandat, il s’est bien sucré dans les caisses de l’état.

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