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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Pleurer comme une madeleine

No, this expression does not involve weeping cakes.

French Expression of the Day: Pleurer comme une madeleine
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know pleurer comme une madeleine ?

Because it can be confusing to imagine why a madeleine cake might cry.

What does it mean?

Pleurer comme une madeleine roughly pronounced pler-ay kohm oon mahd-eh-lenn – translates literally to “cry like a Madeleine” which means to sob or cry a lot. 

A similar expression in English might be to cry one’s eyes out, or to cry like a baby. 

The French expression is biblical in origin – it refers to Mary Magdalene, known in the religious text as a former prostitute. In the Bible, there is a scene where Mary Magdalene covered Jesus’ feet in tears as she confessed her sins and received forgiveness. 

French has had many expressions implicating Mary Magdalene, prior to the 19th century, if one was to “faire la Madeleine” (make the Madeleine” that meant to “feign repentance.” In the 19th century, the expression pleurer comme une Madeleine became popular, in part due to its use by the classic writer Balzac. 

Over time, the phrase has come to describe a person whose tears or weeping is considered to be excessive or unjustified, though it can also be used to simply describe someone who is crying a lot.

In the first sense, the expression might be more similar to the English one of “crocodile tears.”

It has nothing to do with the delicious little shell-shaped sponge cake known as a madeleine, although the cake (via the author Marcel Proust) has inspired its own expression une madeleine de proust, which means a taste, smell, sight or sound that brings back a rush of memories or intense emotions.

Use it like this

J’ai dit à ma fille d’arrêter de pleurer comme une madeleine après avoir dû rendre le jouet de son frère qu’elle avait pris sans demander la permission. – I told my daughter to stop crying her eyes out over having to give back her brother’s toy that she had taken without permission.

On ne savait pas si ses larmes étaient authentiques quand elle pleurait comme une madeleine, mais le spectacle a duré longtemps. – We did not know if the tears were authentic when she was sobbing her heart out, but the ordeal went on for a long time.

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the Day: Etre en PLS

This one can actually save someone's life.

French phrase of the Day: Etre en PLS

Why do I need to know être en PLS? 

Because it’s not quite as life-threatening as it sounds.

What does it mean 

Être en PLS or je suis en PLS – roughly pronounced zhe swee en pay el ess – literally means ‘I am in the PLS (Position Latérale de Sécurité)’, which is the medical position you put an unconscious victim in. In English you would usually say ‘the recovery position’.

However it’s real meaning is ‘I am tired’ or ‘I am disappointed in a situation’ or sometimes ‘I have a terrible hangover’ – it’s roughly equivalent to saying in English ‘I’m knackered’, ‘I’m broken’ or ‘I’m destroyed’ – but crucially it’s not used for really serious situations that might genuinely destroy your life. It’s an exaggerated complaint. 

This is a phrase common among young people. ‘En PLS‘ is used in its original form by rescue teams trying to save lives, but has recently entered Gen Z’s vocabulary to emphasise a complaint.

Use it like this 

Après cette réunion, je suis en PLS – I’m knackered [British English] after that meeting

J’ai trop bu hier soir, je suis en PLS – I drank too much last night, I’m broken

J’ai perdu mes clés de voiture, je suis en PLS – I lost my car keys, I’m so pissed off. 

You can also say 

Je suis au fond du gouffre – I am at the bottom of the abyss (another dramatic one, it means being disappointed)

Je suis dans le mal – I’m in trouble

Je ne me sens pas bien – I don’t feel good

Je suis KO – I’m exhausted [from the English sporting term KO – knock out]

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