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‘Boire la tasse’ - why this French phrase means to admit defeat

It is hard to declare defeat or failure - but at least you will say it in perfect French

This phrase is perfect to express being defeated by a work project and unable to finish it Pic: Cast Of Thousands

To 'boire la tasse' translates as to go under, sink, fail or be defeated by something.

Word-for-word, boire la tasse means to 'drink the cupful'.

This expression first appeared in the Dictionary of the Académie française in 1798, with a definition explaining “one says ‘to drink from the big cup’ to mean drowning in the sea’.

Read more: Six French phrases that describe defeat or losing

In fact, when the word tasse – cup – arrived in France from Persia in the 14th century it was originally tasse grande referring to a vase-sized vessel, much larger than the mugs for hot drinks we think of today.

As such, drinking such a large cupful of water was seen as a sure way to sink to the bottom.

Today the expression boire la tasse can mean simply swallowing a lot of water accidentally while swimming.

But, it can also mean to fail, lose badly, lose a lot of money or go under.


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