Boire la tasse: A French expression you may hear today

A planned wind farm off the Brittany coast has had to boire la tasse after running into repeated difficulties. What does the expression mean?

13 August 2021

Word-for-word, boire la tasse means to drink the cupful.

What does this have to do with building a wind farm?

Construction on the wind farm in Saint-Brieuc bay, Brittany, has come to a halt this week after unexpectedly hard terrain was discovered on the seabed.

This is the latest in a string of issues during construction that have caused oil pollution and difficulty for fishermen in the area.

Fishing collective Le comité des pêches des Côtes-d’Armor told Le Figaro: “They’ve been drilling holes 10-18 metres deep for three months, and not a single mast has been installed – We were expecting 62 wind turbines!”

Following the latest discovery, the prefecture has given permission to start drilling on other sites. The original plans have had to boire la tasse – drunk the cupful – meaning they have failed.

This expression first appeared in the Dictionary of the Académie française in 1798, with a definition explaining “one says ‘to drink from the big cup’ to mean drowning in the sea’

In fact when the word tasse – cup – arrived in France from Persia in the 14th century it was originally tasse grande referring to a vase-sized vessel, much larger than the mugs for hot drinks we think of today.

As such, drinking such a large cupful of water was seen as a sure way to sink to the bottom.

Today the expression boire la tasse can mean simply swallowing a lot of water accidentally while swimming.

But, as in the case of the Saint-Brieuc wind farm, it can also mean to fail, lose badly, lose a lot of money or go under – a fitting description for the failed plans now relegated to the bottom of the sea.

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