by Clare Jones

avoir du pot

Picture ©Tamsin Edwards TexArt


Tu as du pot ! – You’re lucky / jammy!

Quel coup de pot ! – What a stroke of luck!

Register – very informal

This week I am delighted to announce that you have a chance to win a copy of my book, Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. All you need to do to enter is to answer the question on the Lawless French website, “What is the first French expression you ever learned?”  You will then find eight more ways to enter the competition. Bonne chance! – Good luck! I’d be interested to hear your answers so please copy your reply into the comments section below.

Talking about Being Lucky

There are lots of ways to say you are lucky in French. In more formal situations you might want to stick with the expression j’ai de la chance, literally I have luck, but in much more relaxed surroundings you could try one of these very informal expressions:

  • j’ai du bol (literally I have some bowl)
  • j’ai du pot (literally I have some pot)
  • j’ai du cul (literally I have some bum)
  • j’ai de la veine (literally I have some vein)
  • quel coup de pot / de bol / de veine ! – what a stroke of luck! (literally what blow of pot / of bowl / of vein)
Exemple : Ça alors, t’as gagné du premier coup ! T’as vraiment du pot !

Wow, you won straight off. You’re really lucky!


So where do these expressions come from? I did some digging around in Le Robert Dictionnaire historique de la langue française and the website Expressio and I was surprised by the explanations given.  Avoir du bol (1945) and avoir du pot (1926) have the same origin. They come from slang words for the anus or the backside!  In the nineteenth century a range of words for receptacles such as bol, pot, bock and bocal all came to mean ‘backside’ in argot (was it the shape of the cheeks?) so both of these expressions were just a variation of avoir du cul. Also, with the invention of the car came the pot d’échappement, ‘the exhaust pipe’, out of which came noxious gases, a further link to the anus!  So in workers’ slang ‘to have some backside or anus’ was ‘to have some luck’. Why not!

 Veine comes from the Latin word vena which literally meant ‘vein’ but also had the figurative meaning of ‘inspiration’. In formal French the expression être en veine still exists, meaning ‘to be inspired’. If a poet has inspiration, then it is a small step to saying that he is probably feeling lucky.

Do you know any other expressions to do with luck? Please leave a comment in French or English below.

 Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my book. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and

Don’t forget to enter the competition and tell your friends about it, but hurry because it closes on the 14th February 2016.

A bientôt!



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by Clare Jones

chanter à tue-tête

Picture by Tamsin Edwards TexArt

As a long-time, regular attender of Raunds Community Choir, I do enjoy a good sing! J’adore chanter à tue-tête!


chanter à tue-tête – to sing at the top of one’s voice

literally: to sing at kill-head

register: normal

Capucine, qui avait un peu trop bu, chantait à tue-tête, « On a besoin de toi, amour! »

Capucine, who had drunk a bit too much, was singing at the top of her voice, ‘We need you, love!’


Being curious as always, I decided to find out the origins of this strange expression. I looked to the terrific website Expressio for an explanation. It appears that the adverb à tue-tête dates from the sixteenth century. At that time the verb tuer not only meant ‘to kill’ but had other parallel meanings. It also meant ‘to lose consciousness’ and ‘to tire oneself out’ or ‘to destroy one’s health’. Therefore, chanter à tue-tête didn’t mean ‘to sing until dead’, I’m glad to say, but rather ‘to sing until tired out’.

Alors, je chante juste ou je chante faux? So do I sing in tune or out of tune? I have to admit that sometimes, as the French say,  je chante comme une casserole! – I sing like a saucepan – and you can imagine that isn’t very good! Tant pis parce que je chante pour le plaisir et c’est tout ce qui compte – too bad because I sing for pleasure and that’s all that counts!

Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my new book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and




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by Clare Jones

I read a very enjoyable French novel recently all about a date which never happens.


se donner rendez-vous – to make a date; to arrange to meet up

ils se donnent rendez-vous– they make a date ; they arrange to meet up

on s’est donné rendez-vous – we made a date; we arranged to meet up

nous nous sommes donné rendez-vous – we made a date; we arranged to meet up

nous nous étions donné rendez-vous au restaurant – we had arranged to meet at the restaurant


Notice the lack of agreement in the past participle. Se donner rendez-vous works differently to se rencontrer.


Nous nous sommes rencontrés – we met


Here the reflexive pronoun means ‘each other’ and there is no other object involved whereas donner has an object which is rendez-vous – you could think of it as ‘we gave TO each other a meeting’.


Why do I enjoy Guillaume Musso’s books so much? They often have an element of impossibility or implausibility in them which requires a leap of faith on the part of the reader. If you are happy to suspend your disbelief, you are guaranteed a thoroughly entertaining read and a real page-turner of a book.

Demain did not disappoint me. I read the 535 pages in five days flat. It is a romantic, psychological thriller, full of suspense and surprises, where space and time are not as we know them. It has the tag line “Elle est son passé…il est son avenir– ‘she is his past, he is her future’. Here is the blurb to tickle your taste buds. I have copied it from Guillaume Musso’s webpage where you can also find an interview with the author and an extract from the book. Bonne lecture!

Emma vit à New York. À 32 ans, elle continue de chercher l’homme de sa vie. Matthew habite à Boston. Il a perdu sa femme dans un terrible accident et élève seul sa fille de quatre ans.

Ils font connaissance grâce à Internet et bientôt, leurs échanges de mails les laissent penser qu’ils ont enfin droit au bonheur. Désireux de se rencontrer, ils se donnent rendez-vous dans un petit restaurant italien de Manhattan.

Le même jour à la même heure, ils poussent chacun à leur tour la porte du restaurant. Ils sont conduits à la même table et pourtant… ils ne se croiseront jamais.

Jeu de mensonges ? Fantasme de l’un ? Manipulation de l’autre ? Victimes d’une réalité qui les dépasse, Matthew et Emma vont rapidement se rendre compte qu’il ne s’agit pas d’un simple rendez-vous manqué…


Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my new book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for,  and


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By Clare Jones

This week I’d like to look at the French expression renvoyer l’ascenseur – to return the favour (literally to send back the lift) – and show how easy it is for you to help the language-learning community.

Renvoyer l'ascenseur

Picture by Tamsin Edwards /Texart


Example:  Je lui ai fait une faveur l’année dernière ; donc, je suis sûr qu’elle me renverra l’ascenseur.

I did her a favour last year, so I’m sure she will return the favour.


It’s annoying, isn’t it, if you have to wait an age for the lift to get back to you because it has been left ten floors up, but how nice if some kind person, knowing that others will shortly be following them up, gets out on the tenth floor and manages to press the button to send the lift back on its way to the ground floor, dodging out of the way of the closing doors to do so! How considerate!

I am endlessly grateful to those people working in the language-learning community who put free resources on the internet, and occasionally I am glad when I am given the opportunity to return the favour, renvoyer l’ascenseur. Recently I came across the excellent website Forvo.  I stumbled upon it when I put the question “How do you pronounce Agde?”  into my search engine. I was delighted to find this pronunciation dictionary which contains thousands of sound files of tricky-to-pronounce words and somebody (presumably who lives in Agde) had made a recording of his town’s name to share with the world (follow the link then click on the blue triangle to hear the pronunciation). What a wonderful world we live in these days for language learning!

I took a look around the website and noticed that other users had left requests for words which they didn’t know how to pronounce which they would like to learn. It took a matter of a couple of minutes to register with the site and to offer help to a few people by making a few very short recordings of English words. C’était simple comme bonjour! – It was easy as pie! Having made a recording of the word, you are then asked if you would like to suggest a short phrase to record which puts the word into context. I did a few recordings of requested words then I added one of my own town’s name, Raunds, which often causes visitors problems.  The site caters for learners of over a hundred different languages so it is a magnificent resource! Renvoie l’ascenseur, s’il te plaît! Take a look at the site, do a few simple recordings in your mother tongue and help spread the word!

If you want to learn lots of expressions about helping others out, take a look at my book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid where you will find more of them. Thank you if you have already bought the book. If you have enjoyed reading it, please donne-moi un coup de main by leaving a review on Amazon. Here are the links for ,  and If you want to be especially kind, then please copy your review onto all three sites as Amazon doesn’t share reviews across its sites. Je vous devrai une fière chandelle! (Buy the book if you don’t know what the last two expressions mean;))

A bientôt!



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by Clare Jones

I had great pleasure in teaching two dedicated students (whom I will call Andrew and Susan Dawson for the sake of this blog) for eight years before they finally took the plunge and moved to France. They love their new life in France but occasionally they come up against problems with French bureaucracy which drive them mad. They have agreed to share one or two of their stories of frustration with us all. First though, let’s take a look at the French expression ça me prend la tête – ‘it does my head in’ (literally that takes me the head).


Ça me prend la tête!

Ça me prend la tête!

Après avoir attendu deux heures à la préfecture*, on m’a dit que je dois y repasser dans dix jours ! Toute cette paperasse, ça me prend la tête!

After having waited two hours at the préfecture, I was told I have to go back in ten days. All this paperwork, it does my head in!


La loi de 100 chevaux, c’est fou! Ça me prend la tête !

The 100 horsepower law is mad! It does my head in!


Here is Susan’s story. She wrote it in December 2015, so maybe things have changed in January 2016. Please leave a comment in the box below if you have any news on the subject.

La loi de 100 chevaux

“We just tried to register our motor bikes here in France. We went to the préfecture with all, I mean ALL the correct paperwork and it was a big stack, believe me. I am in charge of admin and the Legal Department at Dawson Inc. here and had prepped everything really carefully. We came out with no French plates though, since our bikes are over ‘100 chevaux’ as they say. You can ride them as foreign bikes, but not sell or register them.

The Legal Department got a severe dressing down (no I didn’t actually, we just stared at each other blankly outside the préfecture), just before the other director at Dawson Inc. stepped in a massive pile of dog poo (it is France after all) and since he was so upset, drove down the wrong side of the road in his now only stockinged feet, confusing the hell out of the other road users. Not a good morning, all in all.

The ‘loi de 100 chevaux’ took effect in 1984 based on an idea that it may reduce the number of accidents, but after 30 years no one has still been able to prove this and all the motorcycle-making countries have been jumping up and down shouting ‘trade barrier, trade barrier’ since France was the only country in the EU making it mandatory to restrict the more powerful bikes. France has now been forced to change this law, but is doing it in its own inimitable French way. The law may change 1/1/ 2016, but who knows? The parliament hasn’t decided on this yet – new bikes yes, but no decision yet on bikes currently in circulation. It’s obviously too soon to make a firm decision, with 2016 being so far away and the 2014 deadline from the European Commission only missed by a couple of years.

Here in France there is an organisation called Fédération Française des Motards en Colère, who on a semi regular basis block all the major arteries in and out of Paris by having thousands of bikers riding really slowly round the le Périphérique, the Paris version of the M25 and North Circular. They’ve been out in force to display their displeasure regarding the 100 chevaux law. Well, I guess it makes a difference from all the tractors when the farmers come to Paris to dump a load of cabbages outside the parliament when they’re not happy about something.”

*Le préfet is a high-ranking civil servant and la préfecture is a government office which deals with official documents such as driving licences and vehicle registration.


Another useful expression is ça me rend fou! – ‘it drives me mad!’ Do you know any other ways of expression frustration (that are printable!) ? Have you any similar tales to share? Please leave a comment below!


Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my new book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and


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IMG_3042By Clare Jones

Il pleut comme vache qui pisse! This is one of my favourite colloquial French expressions; it literally means ‘it is raining like cow which pisses’. Such a great image and one which came to mind when I was standing on the side of the highest mountain in Wales on Boxing Day morning this year! We had gone to spend a few days in the company of our two boys, one of whom works at the Youth Hostel on the side of Snowdon. We couldn’t spend a holiday in Snowdonia without shaking hands with the mountain, so despite the torrential rain and strong winds, we decided to take a stroll and admire the forces of nature from close up. Snowdon was magnificent with tonnes of water cascading down the rocks where normally gentle streams trickle. However, we had only been out for fifteen minutes when the wind literally blew us back down the mountain! Rather than being blown off the path, we decided to admit that we had had a good enough taste of the wild weather and retreated to the warmth of the hostel. All routes out of the hostel had been cut off by the flooding lower down the mountain, so we were rather delightfully stuck where we were. Nothing to do but put our feet up, drink coffee and read a good book until the water subsided.

There are lots of ways to say it’s raining in French. Here are just a few more.

Il pleut des cordes – it’s raining ropes

Il pleut des hallebardes (familier) – it’s raining halberds (a halberd is a combined spear and battle-axe)

Il pleut abondamment – it’s raining abundantly

Il pleut à verse (verser – ‘to pour’)

Il pleut à seaux – it’s bucketing down

Il pleut à torrents – it’s torrential rain

Il tombe de la pluie – rain is falling

Do you know any more? How about expressions to do with strong winds? Please leave a comment in the box below.

Many thanks to all those who have bought a copy of my new book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid. If you have enjoyed reading it, please leave a review on Amazon. Here are the links for, and

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by Clare Jones

ebook skeleton cover design 2

Today the Kindle version of my book Je mourrai moins bête: 200 French expressions to help you die less stupid comes out on Amazon. Bonne lecture! Enjoy the read! After making the last push to try to get it ready for Christmas, I admit to feeling rather tired and I have been complaining to my pen-friend, Florence. She came back with a witty reply. She loves to tease me by writing me emails full of clichés, knowing how much I enjoy them. This week I received this email:

Attention de ne pas trop tirer sur la corde, sinon tu vas te retrouver sur les rotules et ces deux expressions idiomatiques ne suffiront pas à te remettre sur pied!

We have three figurative expressions here in the space of two lines!

1) Ne pas trop tirer sur la corde (literally not to pull too hard on the rope). It means ‘not to do too much; not to push oneself too hard’. If you pull too hard on a rope, eventually it will snap and give you a nasty surprise. This expression is a variation on the proverb trop tirer rompt la corde – ‘pulling too hard breaks the rope’.

2) Se retrouver sur les rotules (literally to find oneself on the kneecaps). Imagine that you are absolutely exhausted and can’t even find the energy to stand. You make it to your knees but that’s as far as you can get. You really are dead beat!

3) Se remettre sur pied (literally to get oneself back on foot) – in English ‘to get back on your feet’. You might be asking yourself, “Should there be an s on the end of pied?” No! There are several expressions in French (à pied, for example – ‘on foot’) which use pied in the singular where, logically, a French person might expect a plural because we have two feet. This is a common spelling mistake in French and one which teachers probably have difficulty in explaining. After all, there is no difference in pronunciation between most singular and plural nouns in French and someone learning the expression would no doubt have a picture in their head of two feet. There is an interesting discussion on the website on this subject. Even though it doesn’t seem to make much sense, as you are getting back on your two feet, not standing trying to balance on one foot, the word is indeed pied not pieds. Take a look at the website yourself for other expressions using the singular form rather than the plural and leave me a message in the comment section below if you need help to translate the examples given.

For 200 more French expressions and some interesting insights on their origins and much more, don’t forget to buy my book as a paperback or an eBook or even both! On ne sait jamais quand on en aura besoin (you never know when you’ll need it)! It’s available on Amazon worldwide. Here are the links again for the UK, USA and France.


Joyeux Noël et bonne année!


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Peigner la girafe

Peigner la girafe ou peindre la girafe?

When trying to decide upon a title for my new book, I had for a long time the working title Peigner la girafe. It’s one of my favourite expressions which means ‘to waste one’s time doing some pointless task or other’ (it has an amusing origin which I explain in my book).

I recently received an email from my pen-friend and excellent proof reader, Christian, who lives in France. He walks past a delightful mural of a giraffe on his way into town and he mused about how it got there. Here is his account:

Il y a quelques années, à deux ou trois cents mètres de chez moi, un artiste de rue, en voyant un mur en béton, a dû se dire : « Il faudrait que je peigne une girafe pour l’égayer ! » Et il en a vraiment peint une.

Did you understand the play on words here? The verb peigner – ‘to comb’ and the verb peindre –‘to paint’ have several forms in common.

Here is the present tense of both verbs in the indicative and the subjunctive:

peigner – to comb (present indicative)

je peigne

tu peignes

il, elle, on peigne

nous peignons

vous peignez

ils, elles peignent


peigner – to comb (present subjunctive)

que je peigne

que tu peignes

qu’il, elle, on peigne

que nous peignions

que vous peigniez

qu’ils, elles peignent


peindre – to paint (present indicative)

je peins

tu peins

il, elle, on peint

nous peignons

vous peignez

ils, elles peignent


peindre – to paint (present subjunctive)

que je peigne

que tu peignes

qu’il, elle, on peigne

que nous peignions

que vous peigniez

qu’ils, elles peignent


Effectivement, le verbe peindre se conjugue comme le verbe peigner au présent du subjonctif.

If you go to Street View on Google Earth you can see this lovely mural.

On peut voir cette girafe sur Street View dans Google Earth au 136 Boulevard John Kennedy à Corbeil-Essonnes à côté d’un centre de lavage de voitures.


You could spend a while looking at the similarities and differences between these two verbs in a verb book. When it comes to the past subjunctive, Christian points out that the two forms are in fact different, but how many French people would realize this, as not many of them have a good grasp of the imperfect subjunctive!

À l’imparfait, ça se complique : je ne sais pas si beaucoup de Français savent faire la différence entre : “que je peignisse” et “que je peignasse”

Giraffe close up

la peinture murale en gros plan

Christian explains how the painting must have been made in six parts in a studio then transported to its place of display.

En fait, en observant cette œuvre de plus près, je me suis rendu compte qu’elle est composée de six plaques assemblées et plastifiées qui ont dû être peintes dans un atelier.

The top half has been covered with Virginia creeper which has been cut back.

La moitié supérieure a longtemps été recouverte par de la vigne vierge. Les branches ont été coupées mais sont restées. 

Given the confusion between the two verbs, it is not surprising that some French people think that the expression is in fact ‘peindre la girafe’, not ‘peigner la girafe’.

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I was recently sent a delightful little book to review called Other Cats to Whip, The Book of French Idioms by Zubair Arshad and Graham Clark. It was a pleasure to read and I even learned a new French expression: sortir de la gueule d’une vache which means that something is all creased up as if it had just come out of a cow’s mouth. The book is a good introduction to some common and a few less common French expressions, simply presented with a literal translation, an example of use and a comic illustration to make each expression memorable. I highly recommend it. It’s quick to read but you will learn a lot. Take a look! You can find the book (both e-versions and paperback) on the Idiomatic Publishing website or amazon, linked below:





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by Clare Jones

Here is another lesson to help with the basics. Listen to how to pronounce the verb venir.

Venir present tense

venir – to come

je viens                                        nous venons

tu viens                                        vous venez

il vient                                         ils viennent

elle vient                                     elles viennent

on vient


Listen to the recording and choose a or b each time.

Venir listening exercise

1 a. Il vient ce soir ou demain?

1b. Ils viennent ce soir ou demain ?

2a. Elle vient à la plage avec nous.

2b. Elles viennent à la plage avec nous.

3a. Il ne vient pas au concert samedi.

3b. Ils ne viennent pas au concert samedi.

4a. Elle ne vient pas aux magasins aujourd’hui.

4b. Elles ne viennent pas aux magasins aujourd’hui.

5a. Il vient au stade pour regarder le match dimanche après-midi.

5b. Ils viennent au stade pour regarder le match dimanche après-midi.


Venir is an irregular verb. Revenir, ‘to come back’ and devenir, ‘to become’ follow the same pattern.

Write out the verbs revenir and devenir.

If you are interested in having French lessons with me, please take a look at my website at French Tuition Northants.

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About the author

Clare Jones was born in the North of England in 1960. She fell in love with the French language at the age of 11 and went on to study it to degree level at Leicester University, where she also became a qualified teacher. In 2011 Clare collaborated with Tamsin Edwards to produce an iPhone application, “Figure out French, Rouler un patin: to give a French kiss and other French expressions for leisure and health”. Though she now lives in England, Clare always has her nose in a French book and she surrounds herself by all things French. She is currently very busy teaching French as a private tutor and when she has the time, she writes a blog on the subject of the French language (click on the blog tab to read it). Clare enjoys tai-chi, swimming, and cycling in the local country park. She is also an enthusiastic member of her local community choir.

About the illustrator

Tamsin Edwards studied art at both Nene Art College, Northampton, and Derby School of Art during the early 1980s. Though well known for her atmospheric watercolour landscapes, Tamsin also creates quirky pen & wash illustrations, often portraying comic images of people and places. Tamsin has already collaborated with Clare Jones to produce an iPhone application. Past commissioned projects also include the children’s storybook ‘Tales of Two Shires’ and a book of poetic verses. As well as regularly exhibiting work and selling to clients around the world, Tamsin has also had several paintings published in an international magazine. To view further examples of her work or to buy original artwork from this book, please visit Tamsin can be contacted at

Author Photo

Illustrator Tamsin Edwards (left) and author Clare Jones (right)

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