le dos

Today's column "A Closer Look..." is in French and English. (Just a reminder in case you stumbled first on the French, became nonplussed, and proceeded to "tourner le dos" on the rest!)

le dos (doh) noun, masculine
1. back; spine (book)

de dos = from behind
dos à dos = back to back
avoir mal au dos = to have a backache
faire le gros dos = "to make the big back" (a cat arching its back)
tourner le dos à quelqu'un = to turn the back on someone
tomber sur le dos de quelqu'un = to drop in on someone (unexpected)
mettre quelque chose sur le dos de quelqu'un = to saddle someone with
something (to shoulder them with the responsibility for something)
faire quelque chose derrière le dos de quelqu'un = to do something behind someone's back

French Proverb:

Si l'hiver est froid et rigoureux
Ton ventre à la table, ton dos au feu.

If winter is cold and harsh
Put your stomach to the table and your back to the fire.

A Closer Look at French Expressions

by Barbara Barles

Comme vous avez pu le constater, la langue française adore les expressions imagées pour exprimer une idée, un sentiment ou décrire une situation.

Après les fruits, légumes et autre vocabulaire alimentaire, je vous propose aujourd'hui une liste d'expressions se référant à l'anatomie du corps humain.

Il s'agit là d'expressions tout à fait courantes et très employées dans le langage de tous les jours. A retenir sans "se prendre la tête"!!!


As you may have noticed, the French language loves picturesque expressions to express an idea, a feeling, or to describe a situation.

After the fruit, vegetable and other food vocabulary, today I propose a list of expressions having to do with the human body.

Here you will find modern expressions that are used often in everyday language. To retain without "holding your head" (without getting flustered!)

- Mettre les pieds dans le plat:
"To put the feet in the dish"
= faire une gaffe = to blunder

- Prendre ses jambes à son cou:
"To take one's legs to one's neck"
("To take to one's heels")
= s'enfuir = to run off

- En avoir plein le dos:
"To have a back full"
= en avoir ras-le-bol, en avoir assez = to be fed up

- Avoir un poil dans la main:
"To have a hair in the hand"
= être faignant = to be lazy

- Avoir les chevilles qui enflent ou avoir la grosse tête:
"To have swollen ankles" (or a big head)
= être prétentieux, fier, se prendre au sérieux
=to be pretentious, proud, to take oneself too seriously

- Avoir le bras long:
"To have a long arm"
= avoir des relations, des connaissances influentes.
To know the right people, to be in contact with influential people

- Se serrer les coudes:
"To press the elbows together"
= être solidaires les uns des autres
= to help one another, to stick together

- Ne pas savoir sur quel pied danser:
"To not know upon which foot to dance"
= ne pas savoir quelle attitude tenir, ne pas savoir comment agir ou
réagir. = to not know which attitude to take, to not know how to act
or react

- Dormir sur ses deux oreilles:
"To sleep on both ears"
= dormir en toute tranquilité, ne pas avoir à s'inquiéter.
= to sleep tranquilly, to not have worries

- Avoir un cheveu sur la langue:
"To have a hair on the tongue"
= zozoter = to lisp

- Etre comme les deux doigts de la main:
"To be like two fingers on a hand"
= être inséparables = to be inseparable

Barbara Barles is a jurist based in Toulon, France. She enjoys trying out new recipes on friends and the pleasing "qualité de vie" in her native Provence.

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

The Ultimate French Review and Practice: Mastering French Grammar for Confident Communication

Mastering French Vocabulary : A Thematic Approach
2000+ Essential French Verbs: Learn the Forms, Master the Tenses, and Speak Fluently!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.