“Horse remedy”, “blacklist”… The infinite world of figurative meanings – L’Express

Horse remedy blacklist… The infinite world of figurative meanings –

“Rodrigue, do you have a heart?” In this famous quote, everyone hears “heart” but no one thinks of “the hollow muscular organ, which constitutes the central driving force of blood circulation.” Logic: this is obviously the figurative meaning that Corneille uses here, or, more precisely, one of his figurative meanings. Because the uses of this term are innumerable, which designate, depending on the case, kindness (“having a good heart”); ardor (“putting one’s heart into the work”); love (“a heartbreak”); seduction (“playing nice”); appetite (“eat heartily”); sincerity (“speaking with an open heart”); conviction (“I wanted to be clear about it”); memory (“learning by heart”); the center of a space (“the heart of a city”). Without forgetting, of course, courage – of the same etymology – as is the case for the noble Rodrigue or for the famous motto “A brave heart, nothing impossible” of the aptly named Jacques… Heart.


Many words in the French language have several meanings. And it is to this beautiful subject that Roland Eluerd, associate professor of modern letters, had the excellent idea of ​​devoting a rich work (1). Here are some examples:

READ ALSO: “Aoûtien”, “angry”, “strike”: these words which have radically changed their meaning over the centuries

Needle. It was inevitable: the shape of this little metal rod is too particular not to have given rise to a host of images, whether in watchmaking (“the hands of a watch”); fashion (“a stiletto heel”); architecture (“the needle of Saint-Pierre-de-Rome”); the landscape (“the Aiguille du Midi”) or the railway world (“the railway needle”).

Horse. Man’s noblest conquest is clearly an inexhaustible source of inspiration since, depending on the circumstances, the quadruped becomes a person (“Too bad he drinks, he’s not a bad horse”); a medicine (“a horse remedy”); a passion (“it’s his hobby horse”); a hairstyle (a “ponytail”) and even… a tax (“a fiscal horse”). Are we in France or not?

Tooth. Curiously, the figurative uses of this term refer relatively little to the domain of food. We do find “devour with your teeth” or, conversely, “eat with your teeth” but, for the most part, the images are mainly associated with aggressiveness: “being armed to the teeth”, ” to show one’s teeth”, “to have a harsh tooth” or “to keep a grudge against someone”.

Star. A star is first of all a celestial body, hence “sleeping under the stars” or “being born under a lucky star”. And like a star shines, it is rewarding (but terribly difficult) to achieve the title of “star dancer” or, in a restaurant, to earn your “third star”. However, a star is also a shape, used as such in the animal worlds (“the starfish”) and plants (“the water star”) or even in typography, notably for the sake of discretion (“On saw the Marquise M*** on the arm of Count P***”).

Leaf. Far from being reserved for trees and plants, “the fundamental plant organ of many plants” (Larousse) also designates an ear (“being hard of the leaf”), fear (“trembling like a leaf”), paper (“the good leaves of a book”) or a bad newspaper (“a cabbage leaf”). A name which, it goes without saying, does not apply to L’Express in any way!

Index. The finger of the hand closest to the thumb gets its name from a Latin word that meant “indicator” because humans often use it to point to something or someone. From the 17th century, it was also used to designate the alphabetical tables which, in a book, list the subjects treated or the names cited. However, its greatest success came from its use by the Holy See. It is in fact under this name that the Vatican has long grouped books whose reading was not recommended for good Catholics. Which, in the midst of the controversy over the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS, earned the president of the conference of bishops of France this dig from deputy André Santini: “Mgr Decourtray understood nothing about condoms. The proof, he blacklists him!”

READ ALSO: These words have disappeared from the French language: “défâcher”, “dansomania”, “deceivable”…

Bread. This basic element of our diet has given rise to many uses, notably, as might be expected, in the field of food: a “fish loaf”, a “gingerbread”, a “french toast” , etc. But the term has long since left its original universe. The proof: it also serves as a benchmark when talking about remuneration (“earning one’s bread”); a good deal (“I bought this car for a pittance”); of a quantity of work (“having your work cut out for you”). It sometimes even takes on a moral value when it comes to evoking dignity (“he is as frank as good bread”) and honesty (“I don’t eat that bread”).

Vessel. It has been a long time since we no longer encountered ships only on the seas. The proof with the “blood vessels”, the “desert vessels” (the camel and the dromedary, of course) or even the “flagship of a brand” (its main store). On the other hand, it is recommended to never “burn your ships” (commit too far to be able to retreat).

Zero. We imagine: this very particular figure is not really used to send compliments or to describe a feeling of euphoria. This is evidenced by formulas such as “have morale at zero”, “have the fear meter at zero”, “count for zero”, without forgetting the unflattering “this one is a real zero”. The most philosophical, however, will consider that taking everything into account, this remains less serious than being worth “less than zero”.

Finally, note that, in the expression “figurative sense”, “figurative” is itself used in the figurative sense. You are definitely never as well served as by yourself…


(1) The garden of words. Amusing and learned dictionary of figurative meanings, by Roland Eluerd. Editions Aux Feuillantines.


Quebecers regret the laxity of the French towards English

Do the French accept anglicisms too easily? This is the opinion of certain Quebecers, shocked by the abundance of globish in our streets and our advertisements.

Does the future of French really lie in Africa?

“Yes, but,” replies lucidly Xavier North, one of the designers of the city of Villers-Cotterêts. While 4 out of 5 Spanish speakers have Spanish as their mother tongue, this proportion is much lower for French, he notes. With this major consequence: most often, French speakers only have French as their language. second, particularly in Africa. Hence his call for caution: “French is in a situation of relative fragility because it is a language essentially transmitted through school. It is enough that the educational systems are failing, that the political will of such or such such an African state is lacking for French to falter on its historical foundations.”

Impressive success of the race for the Basque language

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Bayonne for the arrival of the korrika, an eleven-day, 2,500 km relay race intended to promote the teaching of the Basque language. A popular craze which demonstrates the attachment of the population of this territory to its culture. An event that went almost unnoticed in the French national press…

An app to make learning Flemish easier

The Academy for Nuuze Vlaemsche Taele (the Flemish Regional Language Institute) has just launched an application to help locals learn West Flemish. It notably offers lexical entries and is aimed in particular at younger generations.

The Occitanie region wants to encourage Catalan and Occitan

Through the plan Parlem una cultura viva/Let’s talk about a living culture, the Occitanie Region seeks to promote Occitan and Catalan on its territory and, above all, to increase the number of their speakers. This article describes its main provisions.

Read La Boétie in Breton

The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude is a text as famous as it is extraordinary by Etienne de la Boétie who, in the middle of the 16th century, calls into question the question of the legitimacy of all authority and questions the reasons which lead a population to submit to it. Initially published in Latin, then in French, it now has a new bilingual Breton-French version, written by Pascal Henry.

Etienne de la Boétie. Discourse on voluntary servitude/Prezegenn a-zivout ar sujidigezh youlek. Translation by Pascal Henry. Le Temps editor.

The superpowers of dyslexics in the workplace

Often taboo, especially in corporate life, dyslexia can nevertheless be an asset. This is in any case the conviction of Marine Balansard, “expert in management and decision-making performance”, and of Quentin Bous, a former entrepreneur diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 10. They attempt to demonstrate this in this work.

The superpowers of dyslexics in the workplace, by Marine Balansard and Quentin Bous. Editions Eyrolles.


Teaching Picard at school, feedback

In this Radio Club podcast, Nicolas Minair, teacher in Aulnoy-les-Valenciennes (North), talks about his experience of teaching Picard with his CM/CM2 students.


Castles of the Moonby CXK

No, the so-called regional languages ​​are not condemned to exclusively interpret couvertures and gavottes. The proof with the Occitan rock group CXK, composed of Paulin Courtial (guitar) and Dimitri Kogane (drums). Why do they sing in this language? To this question which is regularly asked to them, they respond with this other question: “Why would it be more logical to sing in English when we were born one in Dordogne and the other in Aveyron?” And be careful: it’s moving!

REACT, DEBATE AND FIND MORE INFORMATION ON THE LANGUAGES OF FRANCE ON the Facebook page dedicated to this newsletter.