Avoir du coeur au ventre and more French heart phrases

With charity Restaurants du Coeur launching their 37th campaign this winter, we look at three French expressions related to the heart

24 November 2021

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

French charity Les Restaurants du Coeur (‘Restaurants of the Heart’) launched their 37th winter campaign yesterday (November 23).

Les Restos du cœur, as they are colloquially known, provide hot meals and food packages to those in need. Throughout last year, they fed 1.2 million people, including 850,000 in the winter months, and distributed 142 million meals.

This year, the charity has announced that the Covid-19 pandemic has “worsened the situation of the most vulnerable”. As a result, it has pledged to double the numbers of their itinerant centres in rural areas, and “act against the digital divide, which particularly affects the most disadvantaged”.

We look at three French expressions related to the heart.

Avoir du cœur au ventre (literally ‘to have a heart in your stomach’):

This expression means to be brave. It dates back to at least the 15th century, when it was employed by prominent count and soldier Jean de Bueil.

It is said that in the Middle Ages, ‘ventre’ referred to not only the belly but also the torso and chest. The chest later became known as le petit ventre (‘the little belly’).

The heart, having symbolised qualities such as sensitivity and courage since Greek times, is in its rightful place in this expression, fulfilling the role it is known for - giving courage. 

Faire le joli coeur (literally ‘to behave like the pretty heart’):

This expression, which was coined in the mid-19th century, means to behave like a seducer.

The heart, being the central organ of circulation, has been long used metaphorically to symbolise love or affection.

The adjective joli is used ironically here, as the expression implies a level of cunning or disingenuity.

Haut les cœurs! (Literally ‘hearts up!’):

This expression is an encouragement to launch oneself into action with enthusiasm, coined in the Middle Ages.

When raised high, the heart – symbolising courage and energy among other virtues – meant overcoming anything that could be holding one back, such as fear, obstacles, and fatigue.

The expression is a translation of the Latin sursum corda, a versicle (sentence sung in church service aiming to incite a response) used in mass to encourage attendees to take part in enthusiastic worship.

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