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Tourner en eau de boudin: a French expression you may hear today

Sardines in Mediterranean waters are shrinking due to global warming. We look at a French expression to describe their situation.

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

Sardines in the Gulf of Lion have lost about two thirds of their body weight and are living much shorter lives than 20 years ago due to global warming, French biologists revealed on Monday (November 8).

Scientists at the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER) found that sardines’ food source, plankton, has decreased by 15% in Mediterranean waters while also becoming less nutritious.

The drop in plankton numbers can be attributed to the global temperature increase, a decrease in nutrients brought in by the Rhone, changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation and major regional environmental changes, according to biologists who studied the sardines in what is called The Mona Lisa project.

It could be said that the sardines’ situation tourne en eau de boudin. We look at what this means...

Literally ‘to become black pudding water’, this expression is used to express that things are progressively getting worse. An English equivalent might be ‘to turn sour’.

One theory is that in the 16th century, eau (now meaning ‘water’) could refer to any sort of liquid leaving the body. The term boudin (now ‘bloody sausage’), referred to the male sex, with its root ‘bod’ referring to the stomach or belly. The phrase would have therefore meant ‘to become the water of the man’s belly’ or, in other words, urine - something that our body gets rid of as it is no longer necessary or wanted.

Another theory is that ‘eau de boudin’ refers to the water in which sausage casings were cleaned. This water would get gradually dirtier as more casings were cleaned, reflecting the idea of something getting progressively worse and less useful.

Some sources also claim that the expression was initially tourner en os de boudin (literally ‘to become black pudding bones’) but developed over time. Since the sausage does not have bones, the term would have implied becoming something useless.

You are likely to come across various forms of this expression, including with the verbs s’en aller, finir and terminer.

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