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Il y a de l’eau dans le gaz and other French water phrases

Basque peppers swept away in floods earlier this month are being washed up on beaches in the south west. We look at three French expressions with the word eau

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

Beach-goers in Landes in south-west France have been finding Basque peppers washed up on their shores following recent flooding in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

The red and green peppers are thought to have come from Ustaritz, a town in the traditional Basque province of Labourd.

We look at three French expressions with the word eau:

Il y a de l’eau dans le gaz (literally ‘there is water in the gas’):

This expression is used to say that the atmosphere is tense and an argument is brewing.

A common theory is that the expression dates to the early 20th century when households used coal gas that had high concentrations of water vapour. The vapour created pockets of water in the pipes, which in turn obstructed the pipes and created small explosions.

Another theory is that the expression is related to cooking, in particular when a pan overflows and water sips out onto the gas, causing a mini ‘explosion’.

Pêcher en eau trouble (literally ‘to fish in troubled water’):

This expression means to profit from something, usually not very honourably.

It dates back to the 16th century and derives from the fact that fishermen were more likely to catch fish in murky, ‘troubled’ water as the fish would find it more difficult to see the nets and were more likely to swim into them.

The expression thus evolved to mean to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune.

Tempête dans un verre d’eau (literally ‘tempest in a glass of water’):

This expression means to make a big deal out of something fairly trivial or insignificant. The English equivalent would be ‘a storm in a teacup’.

It is said to come from the Latin excitare fluctus in simpulo, which means ‘to stir up waves in a ladle’.

The expression dates to the mid 19th century and presents the image of a small, confined tempest, which in itself would be harmless.

Someone who makes ‘a storm in a glass of water’ therefore makes a big deal out of nothing.

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