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Salade de mots* Posted by on Oct 11, 2016 in Culture, History, Vocabulary

Savez-vous planter des choux . . . et pourquoi l’on se bat pour des prunes ? (Do you know how to plant cabbages . . . and why one fights for plums?) French is full of interesting expressions about les fruits et les legumes (fruits and vegetables). This week I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

Avoir la pêche / litterally ‘to have the peach’ – When someone has la pêche, they’re full of enegry, raring to go. It is an expression that encapsulates in one phrase both mental and physical vigor. « J’ai la peche ! » means ‘I’m ready for anything !’.

Purée ! / literally ‘Mashed potatos !’** – Perhaps the perfect French word, ‘Puree !’ is both a food . . . and a multi-purpose interjection. Because it’s so flexible, the precise English transition is tricky to pin down, but it hovers somewhere around an expression of shock and disbelief (at the enormity of the situation) that you might equate to ‘Oh man !’.

Tomber dans les pommes / literally ‘to fall in the apples’ – To ‘fall in the apples’ doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But it is in reality quite serious. If you ever feel like you are going to tomber dans les pommes, you should find une chaise (a chair), vite! (fast!) Tomber dans les pommes actually means ‘to faint or pass out’.

Se battre pour des prunes*** / literally ‘to fight over plums’ – Plums are delicious . . . but they’re generally not worth very much. That fact is at the heart of this expression which means ‘to fight over nothing / for something not worth the effort’.

And finally, speaking of salades****, here’s an expression that some might find useful when discussing the current US (or any, really!) elections : raconter des salades. To recount/tell salads means ‘to lie, or to tell untruths’.

Here’s a list of common fruit and vegetables and their French translations . . . along with a list of body parts that should help you understand the song at the end of this blog (below the vocab).

Les fruits / Fruits Les légumes / Vegetables Les parties du corps / Parts of the body
la pomme
le carotte
la tête
la poire pear le tomate tomato le cou neck
la banane banana la pomme de terre potato (lit. ‘apple of the earth’) l’épaule shoulder
la fraise strawberry l’oignon onion le dos back
la cerise cherry   le chou cabbage le bras arm
la pêche peach les haricots green beans la main hand
la prune plum les petits pois peas la jambe leg
le pruneau prune le champignon mushroom le pied foot
l’orange orange le poivron pepper le coude elbow
le citron lemon le chou-fleur cabbage le genou knee
le citron vert lime le maïs corn le poignet wrist
le pamplemousse grapefruit la laitue lettuce la cheville ankle
le raisin grape les épinards spinach la taille waist
le raisin-sec raisin l’aubergine eggplant le doigt finger
la framboise raspberry l’asperge asparagus le pouce thumb

* Word salad.

** My memories of ‘la purée’ in France, whether at home or a la cantine (in the school cafeteria), are of a much runnier version, often made with potato flakes and literally pureed, than actual hand-mashed potatoes.

*** This expression has traceable historic roots. After a disastrous mid-11th century crusade, Louis VII managed to return to France with nothing more than a new type of fruit tree . . . one that plums grow on!

**** In France, la salade is generally served at the end of the meal, after the main dish and before the fromage (cheese). It is also often just lettuce. Une salade mixte or une salade composée includes more ingredients.

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris