For members


French Expression of the Day: Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

In English this phrase involves cake, but in French it's always butter.

French phrase of the Day
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know the expression avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre? 

Because it’s the French equivalent of the English idiom, “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” which means a person cannot can’t enjoy both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives. 

Alternatively, you might say ‘you can’t have it all ways’.

What does it mean? 

It literally translates as ‘to have the butter and the money for the butter’ …  and there’s an extended version – Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre et le sourire de la crémière – to have the butter, the money for butter and the dairymaid’s smile. This denotes someone exceptionally greedy who really does want everything their own way (and yes, there is more than a hint that they might want more than a smile from the dairymaid).

It’s believed to date back to France’s subsistence past, when families made a little money by selling butter churned from their cow’s milk. They could enjoy the butter, or the money from the selling it to buy something else – but not both.

More recently, we saw this phrase a lot during French media coverage of the Brexit negotiations.

Use it like this:

On ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre – You can’t have your cake and eat it

Si le Royaume-Uni souhaitait à la fois le Brexit et un accord de libre-échange, c’est qu’ils voulent “le beurre et l’argent du beurre” : ne plus payer le budget de l’UE, décider seuls tout en profitant des avantages du marché unique – If the United Kingdom wanted both Brexit and a free trade agreement, it is because they want to have it all ways: no longer paying the EU budget, deciding on their own while enjoying the benefits of the single market.

Member comments

  1. Oh mon dieu! Verbe vouloir.
    Ils veulent (absolument pas ils voulent)

    Pls svp proofreading votre français est un must.
    I can do it. 💪

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

This might look like a mix of Spanish and French, but it is definitely not Franish.

French Expression of the Day: Mettre le holà

Why do I need to know mettre le holà?

Because you might need to do this if your friends go from laughing with you to laughing at you. 

What does it mean?

Mettre le holà – pronounced meh-truh luh oh-la – literally means to put the ‘holà’ on something. You might be thinking this must be some clever mix of Spanish and French, but ‘holà’ actually has nothing to do with the Spanish greeting. 

This expression is a way to say that’s enough – or to ‘put the brakes on something.’

If a situation appears to be agitated, and you feel the need to intervene in order to help calm things down, then this might be the expression you would use. Another way of saying it in English might be to ‘put the kibosh on it.’

While the origins of ‘kibosh’ appear to be unknown, ‘holà’ goes back to the 14th century in France. Back then, people would shout “Ho! Qui va là?” (Oh, who goes there?) as an interjection to call someone out or challenge them. 

Over time this transformed into the simple holà, which you might hear on the streets, particularly if you engage in some risky jaywalking. 

A French synonym for this expression is ‘freiner’ – which literally means ‘to break’ or ‘put the brakes on,’ and can be used figuratively as well as literally. 

Use it like this

Tu aurais dû mettre le holà tout de suite. Cette conversation a duré bien trop longtemps, et il était si offensif. – You should have put a stop to that immediately. That conversation went on for too long, and he was so offensive. 

J’ai essayé de mettre le holà à la blague sur ma mère, mais ils étaient sans pitié. – I tried to put a stop to the joke about my mother, but they were merciless.