French Expression of the Day: Se dorer la pilule

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 1 Aug, 2022 Updated Mon 1 Aug 2022 13:07 CEST
French Expression of the Day: Se dorer la pilule
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Even though this expression does not actually have to do with pills, it might still make you think of Vitamin D.


Why do I need to know se dorer la pilule?

Because you’re probably planning to do this at some point during your holidays.

What does it mean?

Se dorer la pilule – pronounced door-ay lah peel-ool - translates exactly to ‘to guild or sweeten the pill.’ Though it sounds like it might have to do with medicine, or that maybe it’s related to the English phrase ‘to sweeten the deal,’ this French expression actually is all about that perfect summertime tan. Its closest synonym in French is bronzer (to tan).

Mary Poppins was not all wrong when she sang ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’ For centuries, pills have been used to treat the sick. But uncoated tablets or pills can be more difficult to swallow, rougher, and altogether bad-tasting. 


As a result, apothecaries began to coat pills - a practice that began as early as the 17th century. Often, a thin layer of sugar was used, though sometimes pills would even be coated with a thin film of gold.

At this time, the expression ‘se dorer la pilule’ came into use as the idea of embellishing something, or making its appearance better in order for it to be easier to take in - literally and figuratively.

Around the 20th century, the expression turned into what we know it as now, which is embellishing your body by getting a tan, if you don’t want to stay pale as aspirin, that is. 

Use it like this

Alors qu'elle est censée finir de nettoyer la maison, Caroline se dore la pilule à la plage. – While she is supposed to be working from home, Caroline is tanning at the beach.

Même si je veux me dorer la pilule à la piscine, je dois me rappeler de mettre de la crème solaire. –  Even though I want to tan at the pool, I have to remember to put on sunscreen.


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