For members


French Expression of the Day: Poudre de perlimpinpin

This expression was cast into the spotlight by Emmanuel Macron during a debate ahead of the 2017 French presidential election and is already cropping up again in the latest presidential race.

French Word of the Day: Poudre de perlimpinpin
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know poudre de perlimpinpin? 

Because some solutions are little more than a mirage. 

What does it mean? 

Poudre de perlimpinpin, pronounced poo-druh duh pearl-am-pan-pan, is a term used when a charlatan proposes an unrealistic solution to a problem. 

In English, we could loosely translate the expression to mean snake oil, magic beans, magic potion, fairy dust, a miracle cure or a magic wand – in short something completely useless that is sold to the credulous and naive. 

One theory for the origins of this phrase is that in 17th century France, doctors used herbal medicine made from prêle (horsetail) and pimpin (Pandanus montanus). When used together, these plants formed the neologism of prelinpinpin, which later became perlimpinpin. Medicine has since advanced beyond this remedy. 

It’s actually a pretty old-fashioned phrase that was not widely used, but it gained fresh impetus during the 2017 presidential elections, Emmanuel Macron used it in a TV debate with Marine Le Pen to discredit her ideas. 

READ MORE The new French words we learned thanks to Macron and Le Pen’s verbal joust

Le Pen had proposed expelling everyone on France’s terrorist watchlist from the country and closing the borders. 

Macron, who went on to win the election, replied:

Ce que vous proposez, comme d’habitude, c’est de la poudre de perlimpinpin – What you propose, as usual, is a false solution

A remix of Macron’s statement soon went viral. 

The expression came to be associated with Macron and has now been turned against him in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election. 

The Senate leader of The Republicans, conservative political party, argued in December that the government could not sustain such high levels of spending in response to the pandemic. 

Il faut sortir des solutions à la poudre de Perlimpinpin – We need to get away from magic solutions 

During recent convoi de la liberté (freedom convoy) protests against Covid restrictions, one woman held a sign saying:

Non à la carotte vaccinale et au certificat poudre de perlimpinpin – No to the vaccine incentive and to the magic certificate 

What kind of person proposes poudre de perlimpinpin?  

Someone who proposes an unrealistic solution to a problem may be known by the following labels: 

Charlatan – Charlatan

Cancaner – Quack

Imposteur – Imposter 

Populiste – Populist

Escroc – Fraud

Bonimenteur/Menteur – Liar

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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.