Faire la grasse matinée and more French sleep phrases

France has announced plans to build a night shelter to house 300 migrants in Calais. We look at expressions related to sleep…

4 November 2021

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

A night shelter to house migrants will be built in Calais, the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) announced yesterday (November 3).

The ‘airlock’ shelter, which will be able to house 300 people overnight, “will be open every day after evacuations”, according to OFII director general Didier Leschi. The users will later be directed to more permanent accommodation outside of Calais.

Mr Leschi was nominated by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin to negotiate with three activists who have been staging a hunger strike since October 11 in protest against the dismantling of refugee camps in Calais.

In relation with this, we look at three French expressions related to sleep:

Faire la grasse matinée (literally ‘to make a fatty morning’):

This expression means to sleep in.

It was coined in the 16th century in the form of ‘dormir la grasse matinée’. Now, you will hear faire la grasse matinée or, more simply, faire la grasse mat'.

There are two main theories as to the expression’s origins.

Some argue that ‘grasse’ was at the time understood according to its Latin etymology. The word derived from the Latin ‘crassus’, meaning ‘thick’. Thus, to faire la grasse matinée would be to stay for a long time in the ‘thickness’ of sleep.

Others claim that the expression was coined due to the idea that lying in bed for prolonged periods of time would make somebody fat, which was at the time a sign of opulence and beauty.

Tomber dans les bras de Morphée (literally ‘to fall into the arms of Morpheus’):

This means to fall asleep.

Morpheus (Morphée) is the Greek god of dreams. He is the son of Hypnos, the god of sleep, and Nyx, the goddess of the night. Morpheus has the ability to put mortals to sleep and appear in their dreams.

To fall into Morpheus’ arms therefore means to fall into a deep sleep.

Le marchand de sable est passé (literally ‘the Sandman has passed by):

This expression is used when somebody falls asleep.

The Sandman is a mythical character in European folklore, who puts people to sleep by sprinkling sand in their eyes.

In the 17th century, it was said that somebody had sand in their eyes (avoir du sable dans les yeux) to express that they were so tired their eyes almost stung from fatigue.

Thus, in French, the Sandman represents sleep or fatigue.

There are several variations of the expression, including le marchand de sable passe (literally ‘the Sandman is passing by’, meaning someone is sleepy) and le marchand de sable va passer (literally ‘the Sandman will come by’, meaning it’s time to go to sleep).

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