Verser un pot-de-vin and more French wine phrases

On Beaujolais Nouveau Day, we look explore three common expressions related to wine

18 November 2021

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

Beaujolais Nouveau Day, every third Thursday of November, celebrates the annual release of the Beaujolais Nouveau  - a young red wine made of gamay grapes which winemakers race to get to markets across the world.

The tradition started in the 1950s as a marketing ploy to make the Beaujolais wine harvest more profitable. Marketers came up with the idea of a race of who could get their wine from Beaujolais to Paris first in order to attract publicity and sales.

By the 1970s, the day had become a national event. Now, it is celebrated across France with festivities, public uncorking of bottles and tastings.

We look at three French expressions inspired by wine:

Verser un pot-de-vin (literally ‘to pour a pot of wine’):

This expression means to bribe.

In the 16th century, to ‘pour a pot of wine’ simply meant to leave a tip - to thank somebody for their services, often in the form of a drink or a small sum of money to buy wine.

However, over the centuries the expression took on a negative meaning and now refers to offering somebody goods or money in order to gain some kind of advantage from them.

Boire le calice jusqu'à la lie (literally ‘to drink the chalice down to the dregs’):

This expression means to endure something painful until the end. This can be a test, an experience, a humiliation.

The saying was coined around the 17th century. Here, the reference is to the cup of wine drank by a priest during mass. In christianity, the chalice represents the wrath of God. To drink its wine to the dregs - the deposits left at the bottom - is therefore to endure something torturously painful until the very end.

(être un) Sac à vin (literally ‘to be a bag of wine’):

To be a sac à vin is to be a drunkard.

It is said that this expression was coined in the 15th century when it was used by women as a nickname for their drunken husbands. At the time, wine was stored in leather bags but the sac could also refer to the belly, which is known to grow with the consumption of alcohol.

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