À la noix: a French expression you may hear today

Mayor of Paris and presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo has been accused of making ‘walnut promises’ about teachers’ pay. We look at what this means...

24 September 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

Mayor of Paris and presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo has pledged to double teachers’
salaries within the next five years if she is elected as president - but , teachers are reportedly worried that she is making “promesses à la noix”. 

When something is ‘à la noix’ (walnut), it is worthless. You may also hear the longer version of this idiom, ‘à la noix de coco’ (coconut), be used.

The origins of this date to the 14th century, when nuts were viewed as a fruit of minimal value.
It is sometimes said that the expression is a distortion of ‘cresson alénois’ (garden cress), which was often added to salads. Its pungent and bitter taste gave it negative connotations, which were inherited by the term ‘à la noix’.
Paired with the common view of nuts as dull, unexciting fruit, the expression adopted the meaning of ‘worthless’.

However, the phrase itself was popularised at the end of the 19th century. This is sometimes attributed to French singer and writer Aristide Bruant.

Curiously, ‘nuts’ is also an expression used in American English to express distaste, disbelief or disgust (as in, ‘That’s nuts’, or simply ‘Nuts to you!’). 

One notable example of this being used dates back to the Battle of the Bulge in Ardennes in 1944, whcn German officers requested that the Allied army surrender. The American brigadier general sent a letter back, signed but containing only one word: ‘NUTS!’ 

This is now interpreted as ‘go to hell’ and the one-word expression is popular today.

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