'Mamie-gâteau', ‘mère courage’ - 12 French expressions about mothers

We share some of our favourite words and phrases about mothers and motherhood

'Telle mère, telle fille' means 'like mother, like daughter'
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1. Maman poule

A mother who is very protective of her children and fusses over them, very similar to the English expression 'mother hen'. You can also say papa poule ('father hen') for a protective father.

2. Mère courage

An expression said about a mother who faces difficulties but is always very brave. It comes from the play by German author Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children.

3. Telle mère, telle fille

This means the daughter and the mother have similar personality traits ('like mother, like daughter'). You can also say tel père, tel fils.

4. Daronne

This is a colloquial word that emphasises the fact that the mother is the chief of the family. You can also say daron for 'father' or mes darons for 'my parents'. The expression is mainly used by young people, although the word has been around since the 13th century when it denoted a small castle. The meaning then evolved through the centuries to mean the chief of the house and the boss.

5. Faire papa maman or comme papa dans maman

This means making something work easily. It is a metaphor for something that works as well as sexual relations between a mother and a father. How French!

6. Fils à maman and fils à papa

Although these two expressions are quite similar they do not have the same meaning. If a son is a fils à maman, it means he is very close to his mother, much like a 'mummy's boy' in English. If someone is described as a fils à papa, he comes from a wealthy family and does not have to struggle financially due to his father's social status.

7. Aller chez ma tante

This means 'to go to a pawnbroker'. The expression comes from the 18th century when the son of King Louis Philippe, François d’Orléans, told his mother he left his watch at his aunt’s house when he had actually sold it at the pawnbroker to pay off a gambling debt.

8. Pousser mémé dans les orties

Literally translated as to 'push granny in the nettles', this means to exaggerate, the idea being that shoving an old lady into a bunch of nettles is probably a step too far.

9. On n’est pas chez mémé

This means you should behave and mind your manners. The origin of the expression is not officially established but we can speculate that you act very casually when you're at your grandmother’s house, but you should not behave in the same way elsewhere.

10. Patience, mère de toutes les vertus

The French equivalent of 'patience is a virtue' seems to suggest that patience is the origin or mother of all virtuous behaviour.

11. Ignorance, mère de tous les maux

Much like the phrase above, this expression implies that ignorance is the mother of all evils. It is generally attributed to the 15th-century satirist Francois Rabelais, from his posthumous work Le Cinquième Livre.

12. Mamie-gâteau

This is used to describe a doting parent who can't say no to their children. You'll also hear the expression papa-gâteau which can have the same meaning but is used more nowadays to mean a 'sugar daddy' or wealthy man who pays a - typically younger - woman or man for companionship.

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