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Language notes: Matters of wealth and taste

Money talk, French-style

Ever since la crise – the French term for the global financial crisis – took hold, discussing money and people’s spending power became more common in everyday conversation.

But passing judgement on perceived wealth or lack thereof is not really a new pastime in France, as evidenced by many phrases in use long before recent economic turmoil.

Here are some key ones that you may hear or wish to sprinkle into conversation, being careful not to offend anyone sensitive to discussions of financial well-being of course!

Firstly, there are countless slang words to replace argent when referring to money. If a place only takes cash, ils n’acceptent que du liquide. Another common word is le fric, which means ‘dough’ or ‘dosh’, as does le pognon. L’oseille is rarer – translated, it means ‘sorrel’, but is thought to be a 19th century morphing from the word os meaning silver.

Sticking with the crop/rustic theme, avoir du blé (to have wheat) is another way of saying someone has money aplenty, as is avoir du foin dans ses bottes – to have hay in your boots. Back in the 17th century, if a peasant could afford to put hay in his clogs instead of straw, he was doing well.

Mettre du beurre dans ses épinards is another – if you can afford to put butter in your spinach then you must be doing fine. And if you are loaded, you may be referred to as being pété de fric (bursting with dosh).

Conversely, if someone is struggling to make ends meet they could be à sec (literally ‘dry’, i.e. broke). Sous also means money, so je n’ai même pas de sous pour m’acheter du pain means ‘I don’t even have any money to buy bread.’

Finally, the best way to insult a hypocrite who claims socialist values whilst splashing the cash is to call them la gauche caviar (caviar from the Left).
Think on, next time you take out your brique (€10,000 bundle of notes)...

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