Mettre la main à la pâte: A French expression you may hear today

In the face of rising Covid cases, a Corsican doctor spoke of hospital staff having to ‘remettre la main à la pâte’. What does the expression mean?

4 August 2021
Image showing a French flag design on a background of French newspaper headlines. Mettre la main à la pâte: A French expression you may hear today

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

Translated literally, mettre la main à la pâte means to put your hands in the dough.

So, what is the link with hospital workers in Corsica?

As the French island experiences a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases, a doctor said yesterday it was time for hospital workers to remettre la main à la pâte.

Read more: Hospitals in south of France and Corsica launch Covid-19 emergency plan

The expression, which dates back several centuries, normally refers to one of France’s most beloved professionals: the baker.

If the baker doesn’t get their hands in the bread dough to knead it again and again, there won’t be any bread to eat. In this sense, mettre la main à la pâte means to participate in the work that has to be done, to get to work, or to get involved (often in a difficult or tedious task).

But over the years, the expression has also taken on the meaning of showing support, or even helping others by getting something done.

Facing a steep rise in hospital admissions, medical staff in Corsica may certainly sense a heavy workload ahead, and the need to get to work – or mettre la main à la pâte ­– to help their patients and each other and do what they have to do.

The doctor also made a small but important addition to the traditional phrase.

This time hospital staff will have to remettre la main à la pâte. Adding re to the verb mettre means ‘again’.  

His exact quote was: "Il va falloir qu'on remette la main à la pâte" - meaning "we're going to have to get to work / do what we have to do again".

Falloir que always takes the subjunctive hence it is remette in this sentence.

Facing a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases, the little re- prefix emphasises that this is not the first time hospital staff have faced heavy workloads during the health crisis.

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