12 French expressions to celebrate Mother's day

Advert for Mother's day in 1947 / public domain

This Sunday May 26 is la fête des mères (France’s Mother’s day). We share some expressions in French about mothers, motherhood and some other family members…

The first Mother’s day in France was in 1929 and celebrated “mothers of large families”. However, it was not a very important day until 1941, when Maréchal Pétain promoted it to encourage mothers to have more children.

1/ Mère or maman poule (literally mother / mummy hen)

A mother who is very protective of her children and fusses over them.
You can also say papa poule (daddy hen) for a protective father.

2/ Mère juive (jewish mother)

Similar to point 1, this is to show a mother is overprotective and very present in the life of her child. The expression was popularised by actors, comedians and writers such as Woody Allen.

3/ Mère courage (mother courage)

It is said of a mother who faces difficulties but is very brave. It comes from the literature and the play of German author Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children, in which the mother loses everything during the Thirty Years' War, including her children but she stays determined.

4/ Telle mère telle fille (like mother like daughter)

This means the daughter and the mother have similar personality traits. The expression finds its origin in the Bible Old Testament. You can also say tel père tel fils (like father like son).

5/ Daronne (mother)

This is a colloquial word which enhances the fact that the mother is the chief of the family. You can also say daron for father, or mes darons for my parents. The expression is mainly used by young people although the word was already used in the 13th century to describe a small castle. The meaning then evolved through the centuries from the chief of the house, the father and the boss.

6/ Faire papa maman or comme papa dans maman (to make daddy mummy or like daddy in mummy)

This means to make something work easily. It is a metaphor for something that works as well as sexual relations between a mother and a father.

7/ Papa-gâteau (daddy cake)

This means that a father is thoughtful, generous and loves his children so much he cannot say no to them. It also works with mamie-gâteau (granny cake).

8/ Fils à papa or fils à maman (son of a father or son of his mother)

Although these two expressions are quite similar they do not have the same meaning. If someone is described as a fils à papa, he comes from a wealthy family and does not have to struggle financially due to his parents’ position in society.
However if someone is a fils à maman, it means he is very close to his mother.

9/ Aller chez ma tante (to go to my aunt)

It means to go to a pawnbroker. The expression comes from the 18th century when the son of the king Louis Philippe, François d’Orléans told his mother he left his watch at his aunt’s place while he had left if to the pawnbroker to pay a gambling debt.

10/ Un peu mon neveu! (a little my nephew!)

This can be an answer when someones asks you if you want to do something. It means yes, absolutely. The nephew was only added to the expression in the 20th century to make a rhyme.

11/ Pousser mémé dans les orties (to push granny in the nettles)

This means to exaggerate, to go too far, as it would be very rude to make an old lady fall in the nettles.

12/ On n’est pas chez mémé (we are not at granny’s place)

This means you should behave and have more manners. The origin of the expression is not officially established but we can imagine that you feel comfortable when you are at your grandmother’s place.

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