Un vert galant: A French expression you may hear today

Brittany has seen a substantial increase in the amount of toxic green algae on some of its beaches in 2021. We look at three expressions around the colour green in French

19 October 2021

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

Some beaches in Brittany could have up to 50% more toxic green algae than usual (using average figures since 2002), according to provisional data from researchers at France’s Centre d’Etudes et de Valorisation des Algues institute.

Read more: France ordered to take extra measures against Brittany green algae

La Fresnaye and Saint-Brieuc bays - both on the Côtes-d’Armor - have been particularly badly affected, accounting for three quarters of the green algae in the region.

This increase in levels can be partly attributed to this year’s weather - a sunny spring followed by periods of heavy rain, which brought new flows of nitrogen needed for the algae to grow.

They are also fed by nitrates used by farmers which make their way into the bays via rivers.

These vast amounts of algae can suffocate aquatic flora and fauna, and the gasses are also toxic to humans when inhaled.

We look at three French expressions related to the colour green.

Un vert galant (literally ‘a green gallant’):

A ‘vert galant’ is an older man who actively chases women.

This was a nickname given to Henri IV, who reigned in France between 1589 to 1610 due to his love of beautiful women and the rumours of his many mistresses.

The adjective ‘green’ likely symbolises the youthful and robust nature of the ‘vert galant’, and in particular his youthful sexual appetite which has not been assuaged by age.

Etre vert de rage (literally ‘to be green with rage’):

This means to be extremely angry.

In medicine, anger was associated with the gallbladder. The French word ‘colère’ - anger - derives from the Latin word cholera, which meant an excess of bile (a green fluid stored in the gallbladder).

It is said that the colour of bile gave rise to the expression ‘vert de rage’.

Avoir la main verte (literally ‘to have a green hand’):

This expression is used to refer to someone who is skilled at gardening. It was coined in the 20th century and is an extension of the older expression ‘avoir la main (pour)’ - ‘to have the hand (for)’, which meant to be gifted at something.

The qualifier ‘green’ makes the connection with nature and subsequently gardening.

French writer Michel Tournier (1924-2016) used the expression, ‘une femme dont les mains vertes paraissaient avoir le don de faire pousser n'importe quoi n'importe où’ (‘a woman whose green hands seemed to have the ability to make anything grow anywhere’), which popularised the analogy. 

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