Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle and more French ‘game’ phrases

A limited-edition Monopoly game featuring the south-west department of Tarn has been released. We look at French expressions with the word jeu.

14 December 2021

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

A Monopoly board game centred on the Tarn department in south-west France has been released.

It features 40 of the department’s most popular locations such as Sorèze and Castres as well as famous regional delicacies including Lautrec’s pink garlic and the cured meats from Lacaune.

Only 5,000 boxes have been released by BM Services at a price of €45 each.

The company has released a list of distributors who are selling the game.

We look at three French expressions with the word ‘jeu’ (game):

Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle (literally ‘the game is not worth the candle’):

This expression means ‘it’s not worth it’.

It dates to the 16th century when game rooms where people would go to gamble were lit up by candles. It was customary at the end of the night to leave some money to contribute for the lighting.

However, if someone lost money during the games or did not make enough profit, they would not be able to cover the price of the candle.

The expression is now used to refer to any type of investment – money, effort or time.

Arriver comme un chien dans un jeu de quilles (literally ‘to arrive like a dog in a game of bowling’):

This expression refers to a disruption or something done at an inappropriate moment.

Bowling and its ancestor the game of skittles have been popular in France for centuries. Both games require a level of calmness and could be severely disrupted if a dog were to arrive and knock down the pins.

The expression dates to at least the 19th century and was popularised by the 1983 French film titled Un chien dans un jeu de quilles (translated to ‘Pick up your belongings’ in English).

Tirer son épingle du jeu (literally ‘to take one’s pin out of the game’):

This expression means to leave a situation skillfully or gracefully.

It likely dates to the 15th century when girls would play a game that consisted of putting a pin in the middle of a circle. The goal of the game was to take the pin out of the circle by throwing a ball onto the wall and having it ricochet into the circle, removing the pin.

Another theory is that the expression has sexual connotiations, where the pin represents the male sex and the game represents sexual intercourse. To ‘take the pin out of the game’ would therefore have meant to refrain from sex.

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