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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: De l’eau a coulé sous les ponts

The phrase 'water under the bridge' has quite a different meaning to its English equivalent.

French Expression of the Day: De l’eau a coulé sous les ponts
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know de l’eau a coulé sous les ponts ?

Because this phrase seems to feel more relevant with age.

What does it mean?

De l’eau a coulé sous les ponts – usually pronounced duh low ah koo-lay soo lay pohn – translates to ‘the water has flowed below the bridges.’

If that sounds quite similar to the English expression, ‘water under the bridge’ then you would be correct! 

In English it’s used to reference how a past conflict or disagreement is no longer relevant, as enough time has passed to render it unimportant. 

It can be used in this way in French too, but the big difference is that in French it can also be used to simply remark on how time has passed.

Just as water flows uninterrupted, so too does time. You could use this expression to remark on it’s been a long time since you’ve practised a particular sport or how many years have gone by since you  last saw your childhood best friend. In this sense, it’s quite similar to the French expression ‘ça fait longtemps…’ (it has been a long time…)

Hundreds of years worth of water have flowed under bridges since the French version of this expression first appeared in the French dictionary, which was 1696. However, this phrase is likely even older than that.

Use it like this

Je ne peux pas jouer du piano, j’ai trop peur. De l’eau a coulé sous les ponts, cela fait très, très longtemps que je n’ai pas joué. – I can’t play the piano, I’m too scared. Water under the bridge, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve played. 

Ne t’inquiète pas pour ça. On n’était pas d’accord dans les années 90, mais de l’eau a coulé sous les ponts. Je suis marié avec trois enfants, je ne me souviens même pas de la dispute. – Don’t worry about it. We disagreed in the 90s, but it’s all water under the bridge now. I am married with three kids, I don’t even remember the argument.

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

This might sound like the cheese for children, but it actually has nothing to do with dairy products.

French Expression of the Day: Une vache à lait

Why do I need to know une vache à lait ?

Because if someone describes a potential investment opportunity like this, you might want to consider it.

What does it mean?

Une vache à lait – roughly pronounced oon vash ah lay – translates precisely to ‘a cow with milk’ or ‘a dairy cow.’ However, this phrase has little to do with farming, cheese, or milk.

In practice, une vache à lait is almost synonymous with the English term “cash cow” – or something or someone that is a moneymaker or source of profit. 

The phrase in French comes from the middle of the 16th century and evokes an image of a cow who is being milked without protest, allowing for the farmer to profit off of it. It was gradually extended to people and business ventures as a way of talking about profitability. 

Sometimes, this expression can have a negative connotation, particularly if a person is being called a vache à lait. This would be akin to saying that they are being financially exploited without realising it. 

Use it like this

L’achat de Snapchat a été une vache à lait pour Mark Zuckerberg et Facebook. – The purchase of Snapchat was a moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Les parents ont été accusés d’utiliser leur enfant comme une vache à lait en l’inscrivant à des publicités. Ils ont trouvé cette accusation offensante. – The parents were accused of using their child as a cash cow by signing them up for commercials. They found this accusation offensive.

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