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French phrase of the day: C’est bateau

This expression has nothing to do with boats.

French phrase of the day: C'est bateau
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know c’est bateau?

You probably knew that bateau is the French word for boat, but were you aware that it can also be used to describe an idea?

What does it mean?

As most French learners will know, un bateau is a boat.

However, when used as an adjective, bateau means run-of-the-mill, banal or unoriginal. It usually has pejorative connotations – the website L’internaute suggests “hackneyed” as an English translation.

It’s often used to describe a topic, an idea, or a story, that’s either banal and unremarkable, or something that’s been hashed and rehashed so often that it’s now of little interest.

So if somebody responds to your idea by saying, “C’est bateau”, they’re not comparing you to a sailor, they’re actually saying your idea is uninteresting.

The origins of the expression are unclear, and will just have to go down as one of life’s great mysteries.

But it’s not the only French expression to use the word bateau. Mener quelqu’un en bateau (to bring someone on a boat), and monter un bateau à quelqu’un (to build someone a boat), both mean inventing a story to fool someone, or giving them false ideas.

Use it like this

Le weekend, le JT ne passe que des sujets bateau – At the weekend, there’s only mundane stories on the evening news.

La journaliste a posé une bonne question, mais le ministre a donné une réponse bateau – The journalist asked a good question, but the minister gave a politician’s answer.

C’est vraiment bateau comme idée – That’s a really unoriginal idea.


Banal – banal

Rebattu – well-worn

Réchauffé – rehashed

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

You might do this while gardening or while reading the tabloids.

French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

Why do I need to know découvrir le pot aux roses?

Because if you enjoy celebrity gossip, then you probably will find good use for this phrase

What does it mean?

Découvrir le pot aux roses – pronounced day-coov-rear le pot-oh rose – literally translates to ‘to discover the pot of roses.’ 

You might use this expression when finding out about some exciting gossip or maybe when discovering what your partner secretly planned for your anniversary, as this phrase in actuality is what you would say when you learn something secret or hidden. 

In English, when discussing secrets, you might say someone has ‘spilled the beans’ or ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ but the French phrase is more about the person who has found out about the hidden item or truth, not the person who told it, as it ‘spill the beans’.

The origins of this French expression are not what you might expect, historically, the phrase has little to do with the flowers.

During the Middle Ages, the verb ‘découvrir’ had the meaning of ‘to lift a lid’ and at the time the phrase ‘pot aux roses’ referred to a small box that wealthy women used to store their perfumes, as well as their makeup. They often used these boxes to keep secrets, letters, or notes that they did not want others to stumble upon.

Use it like this

Pendant l’afterwork, Sarah a raconté à tout le monde les secrets les plus fous sur la vie privée du patron. Je ne comprends pas comment elle a réussi à découvrir le pot aux roses. – During the work happy hour, Sarah told us all about the wildest secrets of our boss’ personal life. I don’t understand how she managed to unearth that gossip.

Il a découvert le pot aux roses lorsqu’il s’est connecté à l’ordinateur de son colocataire pour regarder simplement son mail. – He discovered the secret when he logged onto his roommate’s laptop to just check his email.