French Expression of the Day: Soleil de plomb

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French Expression of the Day: Soleil de plomb
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You've probably wished for an expression like this during the canicule.


Why do I need to know soleil de plomb?

Because this summer has been hot already, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way. You might want to expand your heat-related vocabulary.

What does it mean?

Soleil de plombusually pronounced sole-ay duh plohm - literally translates to a ‘sun made of lead’ or a ‘lead sun.’ This expression does not actually imply the sun is made of lead - instead, it's used to refer to a blazing, oppressively hot sun, one you might suffer under on extremely sunny days where there is not a cloud in sight. 


Lead (plomb) has long been a symbol of heaviness and burdensome labour due to its density, and in the middle of the 19th century, in 1835, French speakers began to associate that heaviness with the sun, metaphorically speaking. Shortly afterwards, the expressions “chaleur de plomb” (powerful, strong heat) or “sommeil de plomb” (heavy sleep) also came into use, always carrying this similar meaning of heaviness.

In English, we use lead in similar ways, like to describe the overly fast-driver with the ‘lead foot.’

This expression is just one of the many ways to complain about the heat in French, from the rough equivalent to “sweating like a pig” (Je transpire comme un boeuf) to the simple “I can’t take it anymore” (Je n’en peux plus). 

READ MORE: Seven French expressions to help you complain about the heat

Use it like this

Pendant la canicule, mon match de foot n'a pas été annulé malheureusement. Il faisait si chaud qu'il y avait un soleil de plomb.– During the heatwave, my soccer game was unfortunately not cancelled. It was so hot, the sun was blazing.

Si vous restez assis trop longtemps sous un soleil de plomb, vous aurez un coup de soleil. – If you sit under the blazing sun for too long, you will get a sunburn.


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