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Do you know how to say ‘to beat around the bush’ in French?

We also explain how to say the opposite and tackle an often delicate subject

We explain how to say ‘to beat around the bush’ in French Pic: Vladimir Borovic / Shutterstock

Most politicians at some point or other are accused of prevaricating, deviating from the question or flatly refusing to provide an honest response – and that goes for French ones as much as their British or US counterparts. 

One might accuse them of ‘beating around the bush’, to distract either from their dishonest stance, to not answer a direct question or pure ignorance – usually in order to obtain an unfair advantage. 

In French, the phrase to describe this crafty act is “tourner autour du pot”, and its origins come from the 15th century when it was purely used to describe someone being sneaky.

The pot in question (also known as a marmite) would have been a cooking pot hanging over a fire, and the scheming person hovering around the vessel would have been waiting to help themselves to the food while the cook’s attention was elsewhere. In times of famine or hardship it was deemed a low act of selfishness.

The phrase’s connection with purposely avoiding the truth came much later, in the 19th century.

The French also have a great phrase to describe the opposite of beating around the bush – equivalent to cringeworthy indiscretion when discussing an inappropriate subject: mettre les pieds dans le plat.

Le plat in question is not a dish, but a word for a shallow expanse of water commonly used in the 19th century. A village ford, today called a gué in French, was actually called something else in Provençal French: a gaffe.

So the act of stepping into the shallows muddies the water and makes things worse – thus, when applied to a social context it means to make a howler... or a gaffe.

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