Décrocher la lune: a French expression you may hear today

French businessman Bernard Tapie, who died at the weekend, is said to have been able to ‘take down the moon’. We look at what this means...

5 October 2021

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

French tycoon Bernard Tapie, who died this Sunday following a four-year-long battle with cancer, has been described as a ‘man of a thousand lives’ due to his many skills and interests.

Read more: President Macron pays tribute to Bernard Tapie, who has died age 78

Among these were business, politics, sport and music, to name a few. But Mr Tapie has also been described in the media as somebody who could ‘décrocher la lune’. But what does the expression mean and where does it come from?

In French, to ‘take down the moon’ means to obtain the impossible. The phrase was coined in the 16th century.

It is said to have evolved from the older expression ‘prendre la lune avec les dents’ (to take the moon with your teeth’) which was popularised by French writer François Rabelais in his 1532 novel Pantagruel.

Another theory is that the expression ties back to the Rohan family in Brittany, who lived in Landerneau and whose emblem was a moon.

This emblem could be found all across their fiefdom – the territory they controlled under the feudal system – including fixed to the roof of the town hall. Some sources say this was a weathervane.

Legend has it that the mother of a beautiful girl in town told her many suitors that the one who could literally ‘take down the moon’ from the town hall, which had been there for decades and was glued with rust, would be given permission to marry her daughter.

One particular suitor is said to have gone onto the roof every day, poured oil on the screws and wrapped them in rags. After some time, he was able to ‘décrocher la lune’ from the roof without any trouble at all – a seemingly impossible task.

Over time, the expression has come to be used to describe achieving anything deemed extraordinary or impossible.

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