Se fendre la poire and more French fruit and vegetable phrases

Three in four French people are ready to eat less meat and fish, a recent report states. We look at French phrases inspired by fruit and vegetables

7 December 2021

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

Over three quarters (76%) of French people polled say they are ready to eat less meat and fish, a study published on Friday (December 3) shows.

The study questioned 1,000 people aged 18 and over - with 48% saying they have been eating more fruit, vegetables and cereals in the last two years.

The survey was published on the occasion of the Agriculture, Food and Health Conference that took place in Nantes last week. It was carried out by polling and market research firm Institut français d’opinion publique for the media group Ouest-France.

We look at three French expression related to fruit and vegetables:

Se fendre la poire (literally ‘to split the pear’):

This expression means to laugh out loud or burst out laughing.

It dates to 1832, when French caricaturist Charles Philippon depicted King Louis Philippe with his head in the shape of a pear.

Perhaps because the caricature was designed to make people ‘split’ into laughter, or because when laughing our jaw widens and our head somewhat resembles the shape of a pear that is ‘split’ horizontally, the expression se fendre la poire came to suggest laughter.

Avoir la patate (literally ‘to have the potato’):

This expression means to be in good physical form.

Due to the round shape of the vegetable, ‘la patate’, which was slang for ‘the potato’, was also slang for ‘the head’ in the 20th century.

To have a full head suggested to be in good mental form and by extension, the expression came to mean to be in good physical form.

Similar expressions are avoir la pêche (literally ‘to have the peach’) which means to be in good spirits and avoir la banane (literally ‘to have the banana’), which means to be very happy, likely because the shape of a banana resembles a smile.

Prendre une prune (literally ‘to take a plum’):

This expression means to receive a ticket or fine.

Legend has it that it has its origins in the 12th century crusades, when crusaders were defeated and could only bring back plum trees from Damascus.

The king was unsatisfied with this and plums came to be associated with little worth.

Some say that the soldiers were verbally reprimanded for this by the king, causing the association of plums with punishment.

Other sources state that in the 13th century, une prune came to mean ‘a blow’ and by the 20th century, the expression had evolved to mean to receive a fine – a blow to the wallet.

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