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French language

When the cat’s away the mice will playFrench proverbs to use and ponder on!

French is full of proverbs as funny as intriguing. But before using them, it's necessary to understand what they mean. Here are a few, explained.

"Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire." (When the wine is poured, it's meant to be drank)

This is not an invitation to drunkenness. It rather means that when an action is started, it should be completed. The verb "tirer" means "to pour out of a container". Once the wine has been poured from the keg, the only thing left to do is to drink it. In a word: one must finish what he has started.

"Pierre qui roule n'amasse pas mousse" (A rolling stone doesn't accumulate moss)

To understand this proverb in use since the 16th century, you need to have a walk in a forest. Rocks that have not been moved for a long time are covered with green moss. If you're moving from place to place all the time, you won't amass much.

On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs" (You can't cook an omelette without breaking a few eggs)

It's not what it seems to be: this saying is not a recipe. In the 18th century, "to make an omelette" meant "break fragile items". The famous writer Balzac was the first to use this image to express something very practical: you have to make sacrifices to get things done.

"C’est au pied du mur qu’on voit le maçon" (You only see the bricklayer when your back is against the wall)

The bricklayer builds walls. Only when he has finished his task can you assess his skill... or awkwardness. This proverb is often used ironically to mock something done with little skill. You can find this proverb in one of Jean de la Fontaine's writings, an author who wrote fables in an exceptional way.

"Quand le chat n'est pas là, les souris dansent" (When the cat is not around, mice dance)

Mice usually distrust cats and hide at his approach. As soon as the predator has disappeared, here they come again! Men often behave like these rodents. Once their boss has left, they do what they please.