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‘Pour des prunes’: Our French expression of the week

In the week of a French festival dedicated to celebrating prunes, we look at a fruity expression that can be used in everyday speech

We look at a French expression linked to plums Pic: Arthur Linnik / Shutterstock

This week sees Agen host the Grand Pruneau Show, a festival dedicated to prunes, a fruit for which the area around the town is known.

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

Each year, visitors can taste the first prunes of the year, as they enjoy markets showcasing local produce.

Prunes (pruneaux) are, of course, dried plums, which are slightly confusingly called prunes in French, and this led us to think about an expression relating to the fruit. 

Read more: How many of these 12 fruity French expressions do you know?

The French phrase ‘pour des prunes’ (literally, ‘for plumbs’), which dates back to the thirteenth century, also means ‘for nothing’.

In the mediaeval period, ‘prune’ could also mean ‘a punch’, ‘good or bad luck’ and ‘something with no value’.

People might therefore have said that something ‘ne pas valait prune’ (was worth nothing). 

This expression may stem from the Crusades of the twelfth century. The second such holy war failed to achieve its objectives and the story goes that the crusaders returned not with strengthened control over the Holy Land but with plum tree roots from Damas.

It is possible that they were criticised back in France for going to such lengths ‘pour des prunes’, giving way to the saying which is still in use today. 

So, for example, one might still say something like: ‘j’ai travaillé toute la semaine mais je n’ai rien accompli, donc c’était pour des prunes’ (I worked all week but did not achieve anything, so it was for nothing).

Other French expressions which also refer to something of little or no value include: ‘pour des clopinettes’ (for peanuts, chickenfeed, next to nothing) and ‘pour des queues de cerises’ (literally: for cherry stalks). 

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