For members


French expression of the day: Se ronger les ongles

Need to talk about being worried in French? It's all in the manicure.

French expression of the day: Se ronger les ongles
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know se ronger les ongles?

Because it’s the beautifully rhythmic and poetic French version of the nail-biting metaphor to  describe something that’s nerve-wracking.

What does it mean

Se ronger les ongles – pronounced se ronjay lez onglay – literally translates as ‘biting the nails’.

As per the English-language version, it can describe the physical act of nail-biting, or the metaphorical one to indicate a tense situation.

Use it like this

Se ronger les ongles est une bien mauvaise habitude – Nail-biting is a bad habit

Les supporters Stade Toulousain ont de quoi se ronger les ongles – Toulouse fans have something to bite their nails about

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For members


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.