French phrase of the day: Feuille de chou

French phrase of the day: Feuille de chou
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
The French love their food metaphors, but this one isn't particularly flattering.

Why do I need to know feuille de chou?

Because not all cabbages are edible.

What does it mean?

It literally means “cabbage leaf” and it is used in its literal sense – for example if you see feuilles du chou farcies on a menu, that would be stuffed cabbage leaves.

But a feuille de chou also refers to a particular type of newspaper, and it’s not the most positive term. It’s a French equivalent of what might be referred to as a “rag” in English.

According to the linguist Bernard Cerquiglini, the expression first appeared in 1860, and referred to a “cheap newspaper of little interest”.

Responding to a viewer’s question on TV5Monde’s Merci professeur ! series, he added that the word chou appears in a large number of unflattering expressions, such as être dans les choux – to be in the cabbages, meaning to fail or come near the bottom in a competition.

Feuille de chou is used to convey disdain for a newspaper which reports insignificant, or wrong, information. Similar perhaps, as one Twitter user suggested, to what the Elysée was trying to get at when they referred to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper as a tabloïd.

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The expression is quite old-fashioned though, so French people are not guaranteed to know what you’re talking about.

These days it’s much more common to hear newspapers referred to as a canard (duck – hence Le Canard enchaîné), or torchon (dish towel). These are both usually used pejoratively, just like feuille de chou. More generally the English term ‘fake news’ is often used in France, despite the Academie française’s attempts to replace it with infox.

According to Cerquiglini, feuille de chou is one of many examples of print media vocabulary that is disappearing, like chiens écrasés – run-over dogs, referring to the section in a paper dedicated to miscellaneous, uninteresting news items.

Use it like this

Je ne comprends pas pourquoi tu lis encore cette feuille de chou – I don’t understand why you still read that rag

Ils écrivent n’importe quoi, pour vendre leur feuille de chou – They write any old rubbish to sell their rag

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