Aux petits oignons and more French phrases with the word ‘petit’

With the manuscript of Le Petit Prince coming to France next year, we look at three French expressions with the word petit

9 December 2021

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

The manuscript of the French classic children’s book Le Petit Prince (‘The Little Prince’) will be exhibited for the first time in France next year, it was announced this week,

It will be on display in the Musée des arts décoratifs between February 17 and June 26 in its wing in the Louvre in Paris.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the book in the US in 1942, and the manuscript has not left the country since.

The author gave the manuscript to a friend, who sold it to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York in 1968. The museum will lend the manuscript to the Musée des arts décoratifs for its exhibition, À la rencontre du Petit Prince (‘Encountering the Little Prince’).

We look at three French expressions with the word petit:

Aux petits oignons (literally ‘with little onions’):

Something done ‘with little onions’ is executed with particular care and attention.

The expression has culinary origins, as a dish prepared with care will often come with thinly-chopped fried onion to garnish it. Around the middle of the 19th century, the expression shifted from referring only to food, to anything done with great attention and effort.

Avoir un petit pois dans la tête (literally ‘to have a little pea in your head’):

This expression means to be stupid.

It is based on the old belief that the size of someone’s brain correlates to their intelligence. To have a little pea in your head would therefore mean to not be very intelligent.

Se cogner le petit juif (literally ‘to hit the little Jew’):

This expression means to hit your elbow, and in particular the ulnar nerve.

It is said to date back to the Middle Ages, when many Jews were in the clothing and fabric trade.

It was customary to measure cloth by wrapping it around the forearm, and salesmen would often make wide movements that resulted in them hitting their ulnar nerve.

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