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French Expression of the Day: Se croire le premier moutardier du pape

The Local France
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French Expression of the Day: Se croire le premier moutardier du pape
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression might come up in your place of work, depending on the egos present.

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Why do I need to know se croire le premier moutardier du pape?

Because this phrase is useful if you find yourself needing to humble someone.

What does it mean?

Se croire le premier moutardier du pape - roughly pronounced suh cwahr luh prem-ee-air moo-tarr-deeay doo pap - technically translates as “to believe oneself to be the Pope’s chief mustard maker”.

Unsurprisingly, this phrase should not be taken literally. It is a figurative expression to describe someone who is arrogant, pretentious, or overestimates their own abilities. One might say "too big for your britches" or "too big for your boots" in English.

The phrase is a reference to Pope John XXII who apparently adored mustard so much that he created the official position of “grand moutardier du pape” (mustard-maker for the Pope). 

He promptly gave the position to his nephew, by some accounts a foolish boy who took the job very seriously…perhaps too seriously.

According to Europe 1, historically, we cannot be sure exactly how true this story is and the Vatican claims the title has never existed.

Nevertheless - in the Middle Ages in France, important people like kings all had their own mustard makers. The French writer Alexandre Dumas wrote that King Louis XI always had a pot of mustard with him when visiting friends, just in case.

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Use it like this

Mon fils de quatre ans se croit le premier moutardier du pape. Il m'a dit qu'il allait préparer le dîner ce soir, sans aide. - My four-year-old is too big for his britches. He told me he is going to make dinner tonight…without help.

Le stagiaire se croit le premier moutardier du pape - il a dit au patron quoi faire ce matin. - The intern is a bit too big for his britches. He told the boss what to do this morning.

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Jonathan Lynn 2023/12/05 16:59
Alphonse Daudet's La Mule du pape, in Lettres de mon Moulin, turns on this important office.

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