French Expression of the Day: Avoir les dents qui rayent le parquet

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French Expression of the Day: Avoir les dents qui rayent le parquet
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This French expression might come up when discussing workplace dynamics.


Why do I need to know avoir les dents qui rayent le parquet?

Because this can be either a good quality or a frustrating one, depending on your perspective.

What does it mean?

Avoir les dents qui rayent le parquet - roughly pronounced ah-vwar lay dahn key rye luh par-kay - technically translates as ‘to have teeth that scratch the floor’.

Sometimes it might be written with plancher (another word for ‘floor’) instead of parquet.

It refers to someone who is overly ambitious or willing to do anything to achieve their goals. 


Depending on the context, it might be used either positively or negatively. 

In the former, it could be seen as a positive quality, necessary for success. In the latter, you might hear it as a reference to someone who is trying too hard. In this sense, a synonym might be être un requin (to be a shark).

The expression originally comes from the 14th century phrase avoir les dents longues

This meant to be very hungry or starving, giving the image perhaps of a rodent whose teeth have grown too long due to lack of use. 

Over time having ‘long teeth’ came to be connected with fierce ambition. As such, teeth so long that they scratch the ground would be a very determined person.

If you want to describe someone who is generally ambitious, you can say ambitieux or motivé.

Use it like this

Dans le monde des affaires, seuls ceux qui ont les dents qui rayent le parquet réussissent. - In the business world, only those who are extremely ambitious succeed.

La nouvelle stagiaire a les dents qui rayent le parquet. Elle se porte volontaire pour toutes les tâches. - The new intern is extremely ambitious. She volunteers for every task.


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