Un martin pêcheur is a small bird. The word is composed of two nouns. The first one, martin, refers to a small bird, the second one, pêcheur, means “fisherman”. This colorful bird, that likes to be close to the water, is called a kingfisher in English.
Un moulin à paroles
Un moulin à paroles can literally be translated by “a mill for words”. Meaning? If someone is un moulin à paroles, it means that he/she is very talkative, a “chatterbox”. It has been used since the 18th century. Like the mill which doesn’t stop grinding grains, un moulin à paroles can’t stop talking or chatting!
Noyer le poisson
Noyer le poisson, literally “to drown the fish”, means to confuse someone during a conversation or argument. The closest English idiom is “to cloud the issue”. The expression dates back to the 20th century. Obviously, it seems impossible to drown a fish. Well, the expression is a reference to a fishing technique: the fisherman would exhaust the fish, getting it out of the water and putting it back in. Once he would not feel any more resistance from the fish, then he would catch it easily!
faire son cinéma
Faire son cinéma, literally “to do one’s movies”, means to be dramatic, to exaggerate, to make a big fuss! There are different versions for that expression – faire son cinéma, faire du cinéma, faire tout un cinéma but they all mean the same!
Obviously, the expression, that dates back to the middle of the 20th century, comes from the movies and the actor’s ability to play a role!
Dormir à la belle étoile
Dormir à la belle étoile, literally “to sleep under the stars”, means to sleep outside! Maybe you’ve done that while backpacking? Before, It was used ironically, as if “La Belle étoile” (the beautiful star) was the name of an inn. And well, if you were sleeping at “La Belle étoile”, then the ceiling was full of star!
Le gratin is a word that has a double meaning. As you may already know, le gratin refers to a dish made of sliced potatoes baked in the oven until the surface gets brown and becomes crusty.
In a more colloquial context, the expression refers to a social elite, an exclusive crowd who distinguish themselves by their social background, their wealth and their elegance. Nowadays, we also use this expression for an up-and-coming artist that can belong to the gratin without being particularly wealthy or of noble origin.
This expression appeared at the end of the 19th century. It plays on the idea that the browned top of the gratin is the most flavorful, like the social elite, dominating the rest of the society.
Je ne suis pas née de la dernière pluie
Je ne suis pas né(e) de la dernière pluie (né if you are a man, née if you are a woman), can be literally translated by “not to be born from the last rain”. It means that you are experienced and know things about life. The closest expression in English could be “I wasn’t born yesterday”.
The expression dates back to the 20th century. La dernière pluie (“the last rain”) represents what is recent or relatively new. If you say you are not born from the last rain, then it means that you are not naive at all.
Découvrir le pot aux roses
Découvrir le pot aux roses, literally “to discover the pot of roses”, means to find out a secret, uncover a plot. Its origin is not very clear. What is sure, however, is that the rose has been the symbol of the secret since Ancient Greece. According to the legend, Aphrodite gave her son Eros, the god of love, a Rose. Eros gave it then to Harpocrates, the God of Silence, to ensure that Aphrodite’s indiscretions would be kept secret.
In the Ancient Rome too, the rose had that same symbolic meaning. The Romans used to decorate banquet rooms with roses and remind participants that everything happening there was sub rosa, which means “in secret”.
Un secret de Polichinelle
Un secret de Polichinelle, literally “Punchinello’s secret”, is a supposed secret known to everybody, an open secret. The expression comes from the classical character Polichinelle (or Punchinello) from the Commedia dell’arte, known for being unreliable!
Occupe-toi de tes oignons
“Occupe-toi de tes oignons”, literally “Take care of your onions”, means “It’s none of your business”. It’s a very familiar expression used when someone is meddling in someone else’s affairs/business.
Its origin is not very clear. It might come from rural parts of France, when women were sometimes allowed to use a corner of the garden to grow onions that they could sell at the Farmer’s Market for their own profit. The injunction Occupe-toi de tes oignons might then have been a way for husbands to put their wife back in their place if they felt they were interfering with their own business.