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French expressions about money: Should I use thunes or argent?

'Argent' is not the only word for talking about your cash. As Black Friday arrives we look at our favourite French words and phrases to do with money

As Black Friday arrives and Christmas shopping begins to pick up pace, we look at some of the best-known French expressions which speak about money. 

Read also: ‘Payer rubis sur l’ongle’: Our French expression of the week

Read also: 'Se serrer la ceinture': Our French expression of the week

Oseille, fric, thunes 

Firstly, argent is not the only word for talking about your cash. You can use oseille (literally a plant, sorrel), fric, blé (‘wheat’), pépettes, thunes, or sous. 

Thune(s) and sou(s) are old words that recently became popular again.

In the 19th century, the word thune referred to a five franc coin. Un sou denoted a silver or gold coin up to around the Middle Ages. They now both refer to money in general.

When you speak about euros, you can replace this by balles in a friendly conversation. For example, “ces chaussures ont coûté 20 balles” means “these shoes cost 20 euros”.

Then, to say you want to pay in cash, you can use en liquide or en espèces.

Go for broke with je suis fauché

When you do not have money, c’est la dèche. This means you are totally broke.

You can also say “je suis fauché” (literally ‘reaped’ or ‘harvested’). This often happens if you tend to throw money out the window - jeter de l’argent par les fenêtres - which consists in spending a lot of money on unnecessary stuff.

Show off your riches with plein aux as

If you were lucky enough to be born with une cuillère en argent dans la bouche (a silver spoon in the mouth), you should not have any money problems since you were born rich and are plein aux as (rolling in it).

This latter expression refers to poker - when you have several aces, you might win the game and become rich. 

What do sea urchins have to do with French money?

Nevertheless, being rich will not prevent you from becoming stingy. In this case, you might hear of the expression avoir des oursins dans les poches (to have sea urchins in the pockets), meaning you cannot take your wallet out of your pocket because of the spiky sea urchins.

Speaking of stingy people, there is an old saying about Auvergne’s residents which states “L’auvergnat n’est pas radin, il a seulement les bras trop courts et les poches profondes” (The Auvergnat is not stingy, he just has short arms and deep pockets) - meaning an Auvergnat has difficulties in getting his money out.

When something costs 'the skin off your buttocks'

When something is too expensive, ça coûte un bras (it costs an arm). It also works with un oeil (an eye, we also say ‘les yeux de la tête’) or un rein (a kidney) – or la peau des fesses (the skin off the buttocks).

Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre (to want the butter and the butter’s money) means that you want your cake and to eat it as well. It comes from the 19th century when farmers often made butter to sell.

On the other hand, if you put butter in spinach (mettre du beurre dans les épinards) it means that you will earn a bit more money and have a better situation financially.

Il n’y a pas de petites économies – you might hear this someday if you decide to save your centimes. It is also an equivalent to un sou est un sou. These two expressions mean that even the little coins count and you can have more money by accumulating them.

When someones lives hand-to-mouth they live au jour le jour (day after day), without thinking of the next day.

As in English, we say in French that time is money – le temps c’est de l’argent – but at the same time that l’argent ne fait pas le bonheur (money cannot buy happiness).

Does your money smell of anything?

Sometimes you will hear l’argent n’a pas d’odeur (money has no smell). This expression refers to Rome's emperor who had the idea of setting up paid public toilets. His son laughed at him but the emperor replied that if the toilets stink the money does not.

Today, we often say l’argent n’a pas d’odeur when the money has been illegally earned – the origin of the money does not matter as long as it is money.

More French expressions to try

12 fruity French expressions to try

8 French food idioms for when things are going wrong

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