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French Expression of the Day: Soleil de plomb

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

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

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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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.