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En douce and more ‘sweet’ French expressions

Climate change is resulting in less acidic clementines in Corsica. We look at three French expressions with the word douce (sweet).


Global warming is reducing the acidity of this year’s clementines, making them milder and sweeter.

Increased temperatures in autumn, when the clementines ripen, are forcing the fruit to consume more energy and draw on its reserves of citric acid. This is resulting in a milder, sweeter and at the same time less defined taste, say scientists at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) in Corsica. 

They are worried the fruits are therefore losing their typical characteristics and becoming more bland, as acid helps to stimulate the tastebuds.
In order to counter this, researchers are looking into finding more acidic or later-ripening types of clementines, as well as implementing more ecological agricultural practices that could help preserve the acidic taste of the fruit.
We look at three French expressions with the word douce, the feminine version of the noun doux, meaning sweet as well as soft, gentle or pleasant.

En douce (literally ‘in soft’):
Since the end of the 20th century, the expression en douce has been used to refer to an action done secretly or discreetly – ‘on the sly’.
It likely derives from the older expression en douceur, which meant to do something gently.

Se la couler douce (literally ‘to flow it soft’):
This expression means to live peacefully, without major worries.
An English equivalent might be ‘to take it easy’.

The expression appeared in the 19th century, likely as a shorter form of the older expression couler une vie douce (‘to run a sweet life’). The la in the expression references la vie in the older saying.

Mettre la pédale douce (literally ‘to put the soft pedal’):
This expression means to slow down or moderate something.
It has its origins in the musical domain, in particular the piano.
The piano’s soft pedal, la pédale douce, controls the mechanism that makes hammers hit the strings. When applied, it moves the action to the right and hammers that normally strike all three of a note’s strings strike only two of them, producing a softer, duller sound.

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