Être fleur bleue and more French ‘blue’ phrases

The French are wearing blue cornflower pins today in remembrance of the soldiers of World War I. We look at three expressions with the colour blue

11 November 2021

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

Today (November 11), on Remembrance Day, you are likely to see government officials and members of the public wearing cornflower pins called Les Bleuets de France.

Read more: 11 things to know about Armistice Day, November 11, in France

These little blue flowers are now the French symbol of memory for, and solidarity with, veterans, victims of war, widows and orphans of the First World War, as well as all of those who have died for France.

Read more: Le Bleuet de France - origins of the French cornflower tradition

We explore some common expressions with the colour blue:

Être fleur bleue (literally ‘to be a blue flower’): 

A ‘blue flower’ is somebody who is very sentimental, often to the point of naivety.

The expression is a direct translation from German and has its origins in Heinrich von Ofterdingen, an 1811 novel by Novelis, a German writer.

In the work, the protagonist would see a blue flower when he daydreamed. It represented his love interest, but the blue flower came to more widely symbolise sentiment in the French language.

Avoir le sang bleu (literally ‘to have blue blood’):

Someone with ‘blue blood’ is of noble origins.

It is said that under the Old Regime (before the French Revolution of 1789), it was desirable to have pale skin.

Men and women of the upper classes would avoid the sun as much as possible, unlike the poorer people who could not afford such a luxury and had to work in the fields.

Blue veins were sometimes visible on very pale skin, which is said to have inspired the expression.

Other sources claim that the expression was brought across from Spain, where Catalan nobility would pride themselves on their foreign descendance which they referred to as their ‘blue blood’.

Different sources, however, claim the opposite - that ‘blue blood’ signified pure Spanish blood.

Être un cordon bleu (literally ‘to be a blue chord’):

To be a ‘blue chord’ means to be an excellent cook.

The cordon bleu was originally a ribbon attached to the Maltese Cross, the highest distinction awarded to knights in the Order of the Holy Spirit - a Catholic organisation intended to fight against protestants, set up by Henry III in 1579.

The knights who were awarded this decoration were nicknamed the cordons-bleus. It is said that they would often meet at a particular gourmet club, which is where the expression made the transition from the military world to the culinary world.

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‘Être marqué au fer rouge’ and other French ‘red’ expressions

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