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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Gros poisson

This expression has long been associated with policing but has many other uses too, although you won't see it on a menu.

French Expression of the Day: Gros poisson
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know gros poisson? 

Because while we assume that readers of The Local are not involved in organised crime, you never know. 

What does it mean?

Gros poisson, pronounced “groh pwah-sonn” means big fish.

But when used as an expression, it means an important or influential person. 

It is slang which comes from the world of policing and is often used to talk about crime bosses, kingpins and gang leaders. 

In this context you can use gros poisson like this: 

On a arrêté plusieurs gros poissons – We have arrested several crime bosses

Vito Corleone est le gros poisson du milieu italien – Vito Corleone is the head of the Italian mafia 

It can also be used in a more general sense, not necessarily in relation to crime, to refer to anyone who is a big figure, important or influential.

Emmanuel Macron est le gros poisson de l’état français – Emmanuel Macron is the big dog of the French state”

Si tu fais beaucoup d’effort, tu pourrais devenir le gros poisson – If you put in lots of work, you can become the big boss

In French, gros poisson dans un petite mare (big fish in a small sea) is the equivalent idiom to “big fish in a small pond” – ie someone who is important but only within their own small group. 

It is used by the rapper, Orelsan, in one of his songs. 

The chorus contains the lyrics: 

Un gros poisson dans une petite mare // Le roi des fourmis, le prince des sous-fifres// Un gros poisson dans une petite mare// J’te parle de bluff, d’excès d’orgueil, d’abus de pouvoir// Un gros poisson dans une petite mare// Le roi des fourmis, le prince des sous-fifres// Un gros poisson dans une petite mare// On trouve toujours plus fort que soi, c’est ça la morale de l’histoire

A big fish in a small pond// The king of the ants, the prince of the underlings// A big fish in a small pond// I am talking to you about bluffing, an excess of pride and an abuse of power// A big fish in a small pond// The king of the ants, the prince of the underlings// A big fish in a small pond// There is always someone stronger than you, that is the moral of the story

Synonyms 

In French people do not say le grand fromage to mean the “big cheese” or big boss. 

A better way to convey that someone is a big player, whether involved in crime or not, is grand manitou

Elle est un grand manitou de l’industrie – She is a big figure in the industry 

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

This expression doesn't actually have much to do with lunchtime.

French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Why do I need to know chercher midi à quatorze heures?

Because when someone makes what should take fifteen minutes into an hour-long effort, you might want an appropriate phase.

What does it mean?

Chercher midi à quatorze heures – usually pronounced share-shay-mid-ee-ah-cat-orz-ur – literally means “to look for noon at 2 pm.” When taken literally, the expression does not make much sense. However, in practice, it means “to make a simple thing overly complicated.” It is basically the French equivalent of “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

The expression is quite old, but it is still in use…though it might be more common to find it spoken in the countryside rather than on Twitter.

It was first used as early as the 16th century – the version then was “to look for noon at eleven.” As time went on, it changed to reflect its current form in the 17th century. 

As noon is an important marker for the middle of the day, particularly as l’heure de déjeuner (lunch time), the expression makes fun of making something overly difficult. 

You’ll most likely hear this in the negative command form – as it is something you should probably avoid doing.

Use it like this

Pourquoi avoir pris la route la plus longue pour aller au supermarché ? Ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures. – Why take the longest route to get to the supermarket? Don’t overcomplicate things.

Tu n’as pas besoin d’essayer toutes les lettres de l’alphabet pour trouver le Wordle. C’est mieux de penser à des mots simples. Ne cherche pas midi à quatorze heures. – You don’t need to try every letter in the alphabet to get the Wordle. Just think of simple words. Don’t over complicate it.

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