Courir ventre à terre and other French Earth-related expressions

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet has landed back on Earth after a successful 199-day trip into space. We look at three French expressions inspired by our planet.

9 November 2021

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

Thomas Pesquet and three crewmates are back on Earth after spending more than six months on the International Space Station.

The SpaceX capsule landed in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida, at 04:33 Paris time today (November 9). The return to Earth had been postponed due to bad weather conditions.

It was Pesquet’s second journey into space, the first having taken place between 2016 and 2017, and first landing in the sea.

Read more: French astronaut splashes down to earth with heartfelt tricolour Tweet

In honour of the landing, we look at three French expressions inspired by Earth.

Courir ventre à terre (literally ‘to run with your stomach on the ground’):

This means to run very quickly, often at the call of a superior.

It is said that the expression was coined in the 17th century and inspired by horses, which were commonly used for transport at the time. When a horse gallops, it can look like its belly is nearing the ground, as if it is going to make contact. This expression points at a similar kind of momentum.

C’est le pot de terre contre le pot de fer (literally ‘it’s the earthen pot against the iron pot’):

This expression refers to an inequality, either physical in combat or figurative in relationships.

It is inspired by writer Jean de La Fontaine’s 1668 fable of the same name.

In the fable, an iron pot convinces an earthen pot to join him on a journey, promising to protect him from anything that could cause him to break. However, it is the iron pot himself that crashes into the earthen pot and shatters him to pieces.

The moral, as per the fable’s last lines, is to ‘let us only associate with those equal to us’.

Although La Fontaine popularised the expression, the story itself has much older origins - sources date it back to Greek and Roman writers.

Ne pas toucher terre (literally ‘to not touch the ground’):

This expression has multiple meanings.

It can mean to be extremely busy, to the point that one does not have time to rest or put their feet on the ground.

It can also mean to be very happy, often used in the context of being in love, when someone feels so elated that it almost lifts their feet off the ground.

Related Articles

Sous une chape de plomb and other lead-related French expressions

C'est coton: A French expression your may hear today

Ce n’est pas la mer à boire: A French expression you may hear today

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
Brexit and Beyond for Britons in France*
Featured Help Guide
What the Brexit deal means for UK residents of France, second homeowners and visitors in 2021 and after
Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now