Secrets to sounding like a native: demystifying French expressions – Part 3

Coralie L'Enfant 01/10/12

This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.

So you don’t really understand classic French expressions? Not to worry, My French Life are here to dissect and help you understand the expressions anchored in the language of Molière.

Have fun discovering just how beautiful the French language is to speak and listen to. Get to know the richness of French vocabulary with its food-inspired expressions. You’ll be surprised to find that we don’t only find them in La Fontaine fables. Master these anecdotal sayings, their meanings and their origins so you can impress all your friends with your wisdom at dinner parties.

Avoir la frite (literally ‘to have a chip/ French fry’)

Surely you’re wondering why the chip, originally Belgian, appears in a French expression. The origin remains vague. Popularised after 1965, ‘avoir la frite’ or ‘avoir la patate’ comes from a family of actors who used this expression as a slang term to describe an individual in good health, energetic and full of life.

At the start of the 20th century, the potato was compared to the head due to its round shape. That’s why something that has a ‘sacrée patate’ (literally ‘blessed potato’) is in excellent form. Then, in the 70s, the influence of the chip spread the current form into common usage.

Equivalent English expression: ‘To be full of beans’.

Translation by Robyn Jurgens.
Illustration by Coralie L’Enfant

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Coralie L'Enfant

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  1. francois roland Nov 22, 2012 at 6:04 AM - Reply

    Humm ?…. If I may, it depends in what kind of manner you want to “impress” your friends! And it also may depends on who they are! 🙂

    In short you could be asked “how do you do?” and find clever to answer: “ça va! j’ai la frite!” But let me tell you that you won’t look very distinguished! 🙂 “Avoir la frite” being quite colloquial and a little slangy. And if the question was asked buy your boss in some law firm, the “wisdom” is in fact to drop it. Definitely not a good idea! 🙂
    We can also mention that potatoes don’t have the monopole as a food expression to say that you are in good shape. We can also say “avoir la pèche” (peach) or “avoir la banane” (banana), none of it being anymore distinguished than “frite” or “patate” 🙂

    Now “blessed potatoes” would be in fact “patate bénie” which we don’t say. The right translation for “sacrée patate” would be more “one hell of a potato.”

  2. Fitz Nov 29, 2012 at 9:54 AM - Reply

    François, salut. Quand est-ce qu’on dirait “une sacrée patate”?
    Pour parler (comme Coralie l’a suggéré)de la tête de quelqu’un? Par ex., “L’Homme ‘Éléphant’ avait une sacrée patate, quoi!”?
    Ou bien, pour parler d’un légume géant que l’on avait cultivé et , par la suite, soumis à un concours de culture de légumes à une kermesse où les juges s’exclameraient: “mais, c’est une sacrée patate, celle-là!!”?

  3. francois roland Nov 30, 2012 at 10:04 PM - Reply

    Salut Fitz,
    Non, définitivement, en France, lorsque l’on dit de quelqu’un qu’il a une “sacrée patate”, cela veut dire que cette personne est pleine d’énergie. Très entreprenante quoi! 🙂

  4. Fitz Dec 1, 2012 at 11:06 AM - Reply

    Alors, François, c’est quelqu’un qui a plein d’allant (d’élan?) – full of drive/get-up-and-go?

  5. francois roland Dec 1, 2012 at 12:39 PM - Reply

    Yes Fitz “plein d’allant”! And not “d’élan”. A guy running before a triple jump, we say that “il prend son élan”. That’s different.
    Yes “Full of drive/get-up-and-go” it works for “avoir la patate”. Etre au mieux de sa forme quoi! 🙂

  6. Fitz Dec 1, 2012 at 2:04 PM - Reply

    Merci, François.

  7. francois roland Dec 12, 2012 at 9:22 PM - Reply

    Just for the fun, I mention I just posted a page linked to this one, on my own blog. It’s here:

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