top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon

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

As Black Friday is here, we look at a spending-related phrase harkening back to festivities of years gone by

We look at a money-related expression as Christmas shopping picks up pace Pic: pixinoo / Shutterstock

Christmas shopping will begin to pick up pace in France this week, as Christmas markets begin to open and Black Friday arrives. 

Read also: What’s coming up? The week ahead in France

This made us think of an expression relating to money and spending, which could apply to festive purchases. 

Payer rubis sur l’ongle’ (literally: to pay ruby on the nail) could be translated as ‘to pay cash on the nail’, that is, to pay immediately and in full. The phrase might therefore be used either when someone is able to pay cash in hand or straightaway, or if a business requires full payment immediately. 

But what has a ruby got to do with paying, and why does the money end up ‘on the nail’? 

This expression may find its origins in the seventeenth century, when at a celebration or party it was customary to ‘faire rubis sur l’ongle’ or drink the last drop of their wine off your fingernail to toast someone, according to La Langue française

Faire rubis sur l’ongle’ therefore came to signify ‘to finish something to the last drop’, which then became a metaphor for spending all of one’s money or paying until there was nothing left to pay.

In 1690, Académie française member Antoine Furetière introduced the adapted phrase ‘payer rubis sur l’ongle’ in his Dictionnaire universel

An examples of the expression in a sentence may be: ‘Je compte acheter ce canapé aujourd’hui ; je peux payer rubis sur l’ongle’ (I am planning on buying that sofa today; I can pay for it in cash). 

Related articles 

Measure your French fluency against these five language milestones

Cordialement, amicalement: the nuances of email sign-offs in French

‘Un temps de Toussaint’: Our French expression of the week

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Visa and residency cards for France*
Featured Help Guide
- Visas and residency cards (cartes de séjour) for France help guide - Understand when visas and residency cards are required to move to France or come for an extended stay - Applies to Britons (post-Brexit) and to all other non-EU/non-EEA/Swiss nationalities - Useful to anyone considering a move to France, whether for work or otherwise, or wanting to spend more than three months at their French second home
Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now