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No. 108: Idioms from the Bakery


Bread. Glorious bread…

One of the many things France does right is bread. There are so many different types of bread to choose from in the boulangeries, it can get overwhelming at times. I had planned to do an extensive homage to bread this month, mais malheureusement, je suis au régime, and bread is one of my biggest weaknesses.

Donc, you will have to settle today for what I hope will be fun: idioms from the bakery or idiomes de pain.

Now, the first thing to know about bread is the French word for it: pain. No it is not p-a-i-n, as in agony, affliction, grief, heartache, and misery, but pain as in let’s-mix-some-flour-yeast-and-water-together-and-get-baking, and rather “Frenchily” pronounced: “pehn”.

One of my favorites expressions with “pain” which I hear the little boys shouting in my apartment corridors: Je vais au pain! Literally: I go to the bread, but meaning: I’m going to get the bread!

And we all need to get the bread. Bread is life, bread is sustenance, and bread is also clever when in the mouths of the French. Come have a taste.

Some happy exclamations:

C’est pain bénit! (This is blessed bread.) It’s a godsend!

Bon comme (du) bon pain! (Good like good bread) Extremely good!

Nul pain sans peine! (No bread without penalty) No pain, no gain!

A tragic saying:

If my father-in-law is a plus de la moitié de son pain cuit (his bread is more than more than half baked), sadly he won’t live long.

Are you a worrier?

Don’t tell your mother you’re avoir peur de manquer de pain (fear running out of bread) worried about the future.

Regarding money:

If your son has a job, he gagne son pain (earns his bread), make his living.

If you are a good bargain hunter, you can pick up something pour une bouchée de pain (for a mouthful of bread) cheap, or for a song.

If you are a lousy bargain hunter, you manger un pain trempé de larmes (eat bread soaked in tears), pay a lot for something.

If your product se vendre comme des petits pains (sell like rolls), it’s selling like hotcakes.

It’s bad if you être à l’eau et au pain sec (to be given only water and bread) because you are bankrupt.

Regarding work:

If you avoir du pain sur la planche (have bread on the board), you have a lot on your plate.

Looking for a doughy insult? Try these:

If somebody vendre son pain avant qu’il ne soit cuit (sell his bread before it is baked), they are a bit presumptuous or in American-speak, they “count their chickens before they’ve hatched.”

If your brother ne vaut pas le pain qu’il mange (doesn’t want the bread he eats), he is lazy.

If someone or something is à la mie de pain (the breadcrumbs), they are worthless, or unreliable.

If your friend mange son pain en son sac (eats his bread in his bag) he does it on the sly, and might not be trustworthy.

If your girlfriend pleure le pain qu’elle mange (cries the bread that she eats), she’s stingy.

Politicians may be accused of enlever à quelqu’un le pain de la bouche (take the bread from someone’s mouth) depriving someone of their livelihood.

If you savoir de quel côté son pain est beurré, (know which side your bread is buttered on), you are an opportunist.

Et enfin:

If you faire passer le goût du pain à quelqu’un (take away the taste of bread from somebody), you do them in, knock them off, or take them out, (kill them)…

…and then, I guess they are toast!




boulangeries: bakeries

donc: so, therefore

idiomes de pain: bread idioms

Je vais au pain! I’m going to get the bread!

mais malheureusement, je suis au régime: but unfortunately I’m on a diet.

pain: bread


With special thanks to my French teacher Nicolas and my classmates, and, please let us know where we went wrong.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sarah Larson #

    I love these expressions…and the bread looks delicious, too! Happy New Year!

    January 9, 2014
  2. Debra #

    Bread, bread, heavenly bread. I could just roll around I good French bread. Yum.

    January 9, 2014
  3. Merci, delicious & useful idioms! Nothing better than a good baguette, mais faites attention, all bread is not created equal! 🙂

    January 9, 2014
  4. Rachel #

    Great list Nancy – lots of new idioms for me to chew on!

    January 10, 2014

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