French Expression of the Day: Vendre la mèche

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French Expression of the Day: Vendre la mèche
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression might help you keep a secret.


Why do I need to know vendre la mèche?

Because you don't want someone to tell you that you accidentally did this, especially if there is a surprise party in the works.

What does it mean?

Vendre la mèche roughly pronounced vahn-druh lah mesh – is a French expression that translates precisely to “sell the fuse” or, depending on your translation, “sell the wick”. 

It does not have to do with selling anything though - vendre la mèche actually means to betray a secret - kind of like the English phrase “spill the beans”.


The expression originated in the 19th century, and it actually comes from the French military. At the time, soldiers used it to describe the lighting of a fuse before setting off an explosion, which involved exposing the underlying wires. 

Over time, this expression went on to mean “revealing a conspiracy” and eventually people simply began to use it to refer to sharing a secret that was meant to be kept quiet.

Another similar French expression is cracher le morceau.

Use it like this

Je ne voulais pas te dire où nous allions dîner ce soir, mais Sarah a vendu la mèche. – I did not want to tell you where we are going to dinner tonight, but Sarah spilled the beans.

Il ne faut pas oublier que la fête est censée être une surprise. Ne vendez pas la mèche ! – You have to remember that the party is meant to be a surprise! Do not spill the beans.


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