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Walking On French Eggs – Expression For Difficult Subjects Posted by on Aug 2, 2019 in Vocabulary

Talking about difficult subjects in a new language is something like a taboo. Not just because the topic may be awkward or inappropriate, but because of all the mistakes that are waiting in le vocabulaire (the vocabulary)!

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

Learning les expressions (expressions, idioms) is a fun exercise in flexing your imagination. Understanding how a morning can be grasse (fat) or how how pulling your cheveux (hair) has anything to do with making up a farfetched explanation is equal parts frustrating and fun, but at the end of the day it’s about learning new ways to wield le français.

Heureusement (unfortunately) or perhaps malheureusement (unfortunately), sometimes things are almost the same as in English, but more often than not they are just different enough to lead to awkward mistakes. One of those nearly identical expressions came up recently au bureau (at the office) while mon collègue (my coworker) was telling a story:

Je ne savais pas quoi dire ! Je devais marcher sur des oeufs pour m’en sortir !

I didn’t know what to say! I had to walk on eggs to get out!

Given the context it was clear that this was la version française of walking on eggshells, just with a bit more of des œufs (eggs). Realizing the similarities, I started laughing at a somewhat inappropriate time and quickly needed to find my own eggs to walk on.

John ! Pourquoi tu ris !
Je suis désolé, mais je ne savais pas qu’on avait cette expression en français…
Quoi ?
Marcher sur des œufs !
Et alors ?

John! Why are you laughing!
I’m sorry, but I didn’t know you have that expression in French…
Walking on eggs!
So what?

I wanted to explain how a very similar expression exists in English, but I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to say eggshells en français!

On a pratiquement la même expression en anglais !
Ah ouais ?
Sauf on dit pas les œufs… on dit….
Vous dites quoi ?
Euh… l’extérieur d’un œuf… cette partie qui peut se casser très facilement.
Tous les œufs se cassent facilement, d’où l’expression.
Oui mais…

We have nearly the same idiom in English!
Ah yeah?
Except we don’t say eggs… we say…
What do you say?
Uh… The outside of an egg… The part that can easily break.
All eggs break easily, hence the expression.
Yes but…

Je marchais sur des œufs (I was walking on eggshells) as I tried to ask about vocabulary after accidentally annoying mon collègue.

Un œuf c’est le blanc d’œuf, le jaune d’œuf et la partie qui le protège.
Comment dit-on cette troisième partie ?
La coquille d’œuf ?
Voilà ça c’est ce que je voulais dire !
Alors on dit marcher sur des coquilles d’œuf en anglais ?
Oui, c’est ça.
Ah… tu as raison c’est pratiquement la même expression !

An egg is the egg white, the yolk, and the part that protects it.
How do you say that third part?
Voilà that’s what I wanted to say!
So you say walking on eggshells in English?
Yes, that’s it.
Ah… you are right it’s nearly the same expression!

I successfully crossed the road and had not only learned something new, but had shared with mon collègue the very similar English idiom!

While it might have been an awkward conversation at first, by the end of it I was more comfortable with une nouvelle expression française. After all, petit à petit l’oiseau fait son nid – and you’ll have to click the link to understand that last one!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.