Language notes on the French art of drinking
As you would expect, there are many French maxims relating to booze. Alfred de Musset, a 19th-century poet, was not too picky with his preferences: Qu’importe le flacon, pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse – “Nevermind the bottle, as long as you’re intoxicated”. But perhaps the neatest summation of alcohol’s role in French life came from Napoleon, who once said, “In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”
Autumn is upon us, and the grape harvest is under way in vineyards, from Reims to the Rhône Valley, so here we look at French expressions that relate to enjoying a tipple and having one too many.
We often think of the French as moderate – or, at least, quite sensible – drinkers, but in 2013 the phrase beuverie express appeared in the country’s official journal. It became part of the language and ‘binge drinking’ had officially arrived in France…
It is by no means at UK levels but with this in mind, a stock familiar phrase for saying someone drinks too much is boire comme un trou – literally ‘to drink like a hole’. Similar to this are boire comme une éponge (drink like a sponge) or boire comme un évier (drink like a sink).
To drink oneself into a stupor is boire jusqu’à tomber, while to drink someone under the table is faire rouler quelqu’un sous la table.
Conversely, someone who demurely sips at their drink can be said to boire à petits coups. Other words for ‘to sip’ are siroter and gobeloter.
Need to hand out a few words of warning in French about the inhibition-removing effects of a few glasses of wine? Try Ce que le sobre tient au coeur est sur la langue du buveur – “What the sober hold in their heart is on the drinker’s tongue” This is a rather long winded way of saying in vino veritas.
Cul sec! (‘dry bottom’, or ‘Bottoms up!’).