Avoir la dalle and other French hunger phrases you may hear

A priest and two volunteers are staging a hunger strike in solidarity with refugees in Calais. We look at four expressions related to hunger...

13 October 2021

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

A priest and two volunteers have been on hunger strike since Monday in protest at the alleged bad treatment of refugees in Calais.

Philippe Demeestère, Anaïs Vogel and Ludovic Holbein are calling on the government to end evictions and what they call the humiliating treatment of refugees by police.

The three say they will only end their strike if various conditions are met, including putting a stop to the confiscation of refugees’ belongings and the dismantling of makeshift camps during the winter months.

We look at four expressions about hunger in French

Avoir la dalle is often used, and literally translates to ‘to have the slab’. It also means ‘to be hungry’.

The word ‘dalle comes from the Old Norse word ‘daela’, which meant gutter. The related word ‘dalot’ is still used in French today to refer to certain systems which allow the flow of water, such as a gutter or culvert.

In the 14th century, the word ‘dalle’ was used figuratively to refer to the throat. This led to the creation of the expression avoir la dalle en pente (‘to have a sloped slab’), which was used to refer to people who could ‘drain’ (consume) alcohol quickly.

Over time, the expression was shortened and came to refer to food as opposed to drink. In the 19th century, ‘avoir la dalle came to have the definition we know today – to be very hungry.

Avoir l’estomac dans les talons

Literally this means ‘to have your stomach in your heels’ and alludes to extreme hunger.

The phrase is said to have been coined in the 19th century with one theory claiming that the stomach expands when hungry, so if it ‘reaches all the way to the heels’, then the hunger must be immense.

Another theory is that the word ‘talons (heels) was originally ‘étalon (meaning stallion) but that the usage changed over time. The implication would therefore have been that one’s hunger is as strong and persistent as a stallion.

Avoir les crocs

Literally means ‘to have fangs’, implies that hunger is as strong as that of an animal that cannot control its impulses. An appropriate English translation might therefore be ‘to be ravenous’.

Avoir une faim de loup

Literally to have ‘the hunger of a wolf, has similar implications. It was coined in the mid-19th century but it is said that it derived from the 17th-century expression ‘manger comme un loup’ (‘to eat like a wolf’), which means to eat greedily.

Another wolf expression is ‘la faim fait sortir le loup du bois’ (‘hunger makes the wolf leave the woods’), which alludes to the idea that necessity makes us do things we usually wouldn’t.

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