‘Une volée de bois vert’ and three other French phrases about trees

Trees are in the news due to plans to ‘greenify’ Paris. We explore French expressions related to trees and wood…

6 October 2021

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

A decision is to be made next week on Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s plans to ‘greenify’ Paris by creating urban forests with the planting of 170,000 trees across the capital by 2026.

The plans also include increasing a tax imposed on property developers who cut down trees for their developments by 32%.

It will be the subject of a vote next week at the Paris City Council.

Here are four French expressions related to trees and wood...

‘Recevoir une volée de bois vert’ (literally ‘to receive a shower of green wood’) means to be severely criticised or corrected.

This expression was coined in the 17th century although the term ‘une volée de coups’ (‘a shower of blows’) was already in common use.

Green wood, notorious for its hard exterior, was often used to make batons.

Here, the green wood, which would usually be associated with physical pain, represents the ‘pain’ of being told off or criticised.

'Faire flèche de tout bois’ (‘to make an arrow out of any wood’), which means to do everything possible to succeed.

This term has its origins in the Middle Ages, when hunters would use branches from surrounding trees as makeshift arrows if they ever ran out.

'Envoyer du bois’ (‘to send wood’) which means to perform well or be efficient.

It is also, albeit more rarely, used to express satisfaction.

The expression was inspired by the Basques, who would lift and throw tree trunks for sport in order to prove their strength.

Hence, when a job is done well, it is said, “Ça envoie du bois” (“this sends/throws wood”). 

'Avoir la gueule de bois’ (‘to have a mouth of wood’), which means ‘to have a hangover’.

In French, while ‘bouche’ is the most common term for ‘mouth’, the word ‘gueule’ can also be used.

However, it is used in a less sophisticated context - often derogatory or to refer to animals’ snouts.

The expression suggests that our mouth, after we’ve drunk too much alcohol, feels as dry as wood.

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