Music to my cauliflower

Times Staff Writer

Thursday is Bastille Day -- or le 14 Juillet, as it’s known in France. For me, that’s cause to think about French food. And to bemoan the fact that my husband and son and I won’t be going to France this summer as usual to visit my in-laws, who are obsessed with the stuff.

It’s tough for me to get it into my zucchini that we don’t have enough sorrel to go this year. Our rear ends aren’t exactly surrounded by noodles.

Zucchini? Sorrel? Noodles?

Well, that’s how French people talk. Their love for food is equal only to their love for slang, and French slang, to an amazing degree, is food related.


Spend some time speaking French with French people, and you’ll hear things like “Regardez ce quart de Brie” -- meaning “look at that quarter-wheel of Brie.” That’s a favorite phrase of my husband, and it refers not to cheese but to someone with a huge nose. (And in southwest France, where my in-laws live, there’s no shortage of those.)

If my mother-in-law remarks that her niece is pedaling in the sauerkraut (elle pedale dans la choucroute), that means she doesn’t understand diddly squat.

And if your rear end is surrounded by noodles (le cul borde de nouilles), that means you’re extremely lucky.

Lately, missing France and reflecting on how deeply the French obsession with food is embedded in the language, I was prompted to compile a list of these expressions. Some are predictable, like “bon comme du bon pain” (good like good bread) or “maigre comme un haricot” (skinny as a string bean); “faire du ble” (to make money) is close to the English “earn some dough.”

Others are much more colorful.

Voila, a list of my favorites:


Some serious sorrel (de l’oseille): Plenty of money.

I could eat a parish priest rubbed with garlic (Je pourrais manger un cure frotte d’ail): I could eat a horse.

Oh, mashed potatoes! (Oh puree!): Darn it!

I can eat my soup on your head (Je peux manger ma soupe sur ta tete): I’m a head taller than you.


Zucchini (courgette): Head.

Coffeepot (cafetiere): Head.

She’s working from her coffeepot (Elle travaille de la cafetiere): She’s a bit out of it.

Worry about your own onions (Occupe-toi de tes oignons): Mind your own business.

Onions (oignons): Buttocks.

Make fried marlin eyes (Faire des yeux de merlans frits): Make goo-goo eyes.

Your rear end is surrounded by noodles (Tu as le cul borde de nouilles): You’re extremely lucky.

Go ahead, tall unhooker of sausages! (Va donc, grand dependeur d’andouilles!): Go ahead, you big lug! (The guy who unhooks the andouilles from the ceiling must be very tall and not very smart.)

You’re turning my blood into blood sausage (Tu me fais tourner le sang en boudin): You’re worrying me.

To have two eggs on the plate (avoir deux oeufs sur le plat): To be flat-chested.

She has the banana (Elle a la banane): She’s got a big smile.

That puts the butter in the spinach (Ca met du beurre dans les epinards): That’s icing on the cake.

You want the butter and the money of the butter (Tu veux le beurre et l’argent du beurre): You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

He’s sugaring his strawberries (Il sucre les fraises): He’s old and senile, one foot in the grave.


Fall in the apples (tomber dans les pommes): To faint.

To be a cooking oil (etre une huile): To be high-ranked, a big cheese.

Land a peach (mettre une peche): Punch someone in the face.

Ears like cauliflowers (des oreilles en chou-fleur): Big ears.

Make some salads (faire des salades): Tell tales out of school.

A veal (un veau): A sluggish car.

Push on the mushroom (Appuie sur le champignon): Step on the gas.

Make a total cheese (en faire tout un fromage): Make a big deal out of something.

She pedals in the sauerkraut (Elle pedale dans la choucroute): She doesn’t understand diddly squat.

A noodle (une nouille): An idiot.

Right in the pear (en pleine poire): Right in the face.

Make the leek (faire le poireau/poireauter): Wait impatiently for someone.

Send the sauce (envoyez la sauce): Make an effort.

He has some brioche (Il a de la brioche): He has a potbelly.

She has the heart of an artichoke, she has an artichoke heart (Elle a le coeur d’artichaut): She’s sentimental.

A big asparagus (grande asperge): A tall person.

Spitting in the soup (cracher dans la soupe): Being overly critical or ungrateful.

Send a chestnut (envoyer un marron): Punch someone in the face.

That’s turning to vinegar (Ca tourne au vinaigre): The situation’s out of hand/going badly.

He’s not in his plate (Il n’est pas dans son assiette): He’s not himself.

The carrots are cooked (Les carottes sont cuites): It’s too late to do anything about it.

The end of the string beans (la fin des haricots): The biggest deal possible, in a catastrophic way.