Today we examine 3 common English idioms. English idioms are a pain to learn for new English language learners. We try to make it fun and interesting, so much so you might like these awkward parts of the English language when we finish with them.
I’ve gotten into the habit of calling English idioms a pain. It’s mostly because of the number of English language learner students I see who struggle with them. The idioms are fun when you get to know them, it’s just that native English speakers use them more than you might expect and that can catch new language learners (who are still in direct translation mode) out.
It’s not only an English language problem. I’m sure all languages have an idiom of some sort (note to myself to check on this).
Today we prove this by taking three idioms we have heard being used by our French relatives, during Zoom video calls, and talk about the same idioms in English.
Tasse Gateau Cerise Takeaway
|Not My Cup Of Tea||10|
|The Cherry On The Top||6|
|La Cerise Sur Le Gateau||5|
|The Cherry On The Cake||4|
|And The Cherry On The||3|
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So if you know the English language and the problems that students meet when they’re learning English, you’ll know that idioms are one of the things which can make learning English more difficult. English speakers use idioms all the time – just when you are understanding the conversation, we’ll slip in an idiom – and the conversation suddenly takes a different direction and all of a sudden, it’s confusing. An idiom, I-D-I-O-M is a saying, which is symbolic.
From the actual words, the meaning may not be clear. But there’s usually a link, sometimes a reason from history why a saying, an idiom has the meaning it has. And there are quite a lot of idioms in English, but if you come across them a number of times, you start to remember them. Some of the idioms in English may also be similar to ones in your own language. I know that in French, they’re often the same or very similar to ours.
So how about today we do a quick tour of three idioms, all concerning eating and drinking, which are the same in English as they are in French. Even if you don’t speak French, hearing the French may help you remember them. These aren’t the only idioms that French and English have in common – but it’s a good start! And if you’re French speaking, this will be a piece of cake. There’s another idiom, thrown in for free!
- In French you can say ‘La cerise sur le gateau’ – the cherry on the top of the cake.
- Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre - to have eyes bigger than your stomach (or your ‘belly’). And the last one….
- Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé – it’s not my cup of tea.
So what do these mean?
Well, ‘la cerise sur le gateau’ – is literally ‘the cherry on the cake’. And the meaning here, is ‘the best bit’. A good situation, but the cherry on the cake is the best part of the situation. So the ‘cherry on top of the cake’ – it’s even better. A cherry, C-H-E-R-R-Y is a fruit – and sometimes cherries, are coloured bright red, covered in sugar and used to decorate cakes. So in English, we might say ‘The cherry on the top of the cake’ or just ‘the cherry on the top’. So someone might say ‘I’m excited because I’m going to visit my brother in Canada. And the cherry on the top? My sister is going to be there at the same time’.
So what’s even better – I’m going to see my sister as well as my brother. Or ‘I’ve got a new job. And the cherry on the top – they’re paying for me to move house!’. Something similar that we might say in English – ‘the icing on the cake’ – it means really the same thing. ‘And the icing on the cake? My new job means that I can work from home, three days a week!’. ‘La cerise sur le gateau’ and ‘the cherry on the cake’.
What about ‘Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre’ - that means literally ‘to have eyes that are bigger than your stomach’. In English we might say also ‘To have eyes bigger than your belly’. In English ‘belly’, B-E-L-L-Y is just a slightly more familiar way of saying stomach. If you went to your doctor, you’d use the word ‘stomach’, if you were describing a problem, rather than ‘belly’. But if you were teasing someone in your family about their stomach, you might use the word ‘belly’. And if it was a child or an animal, you might say ‘tummy’, T-U-M-M-Y for the stomach. We can never just stick to one word, can we? And what does the idiom mean? Well ‘Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre’ or ‘To have eyes bigger than your belly’ means that you’ve ordered too much food.
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You‘ve asked for more food than you can possibly eat! So your eyes were tempted, your eyes said ‘Oh, yes, we’ll have this and this and this’ and then when it comes to it, you can’t eat it all. When we have curry – and at the moment, it’s all takeaway, because we’re not allowed to go out to eat at our local Indian restaurant, but when we buy curry from there, my eyes are always bigger than my belly – and I order more than I can eat. Fortunately, I’m not proud – I’m quite happy to eat my curry for lunch the next day. Curry is always good for me! So ‘Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre’ or ‘to have eyes bigger than your stomach’.
And the last one? In French ‘Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé’ and in English ‘It’s not my cup of tea’. Well, clearly ‘une tasse de thé’ or a cup of tea is something that you drink. But you might say of a thing, or a person ‘That’s not my cup of tea’ or ‘He’s not my cup of tea’. What do we mean by this? What we mean is that that thing is very well liked, or well thought of by other people – but it’s just not the thing or the person that I like. I would say ‘Take me to an art gallery any day, but a musical – that’s not my cup of tea’. I really, really don’t like musicals – by that I mean musical theatre.
A photograph of someone making a cup of tea, used to help explain the English idiom not my cup of tea.
It’s just not my cup of tea – it’s uncomfortable, not pleasurable for me to watch. Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé – it’s not my cup of tea. Or with a person, it might be that you’re talking about a comedian, someone who does a comedy act – for entertainment, with the purpose of making you laugh. So you might say ‘Micky Flanagan – he makes me laugh. But Jimmy Carr – he’s not my cup of tea!’ They’re both British comedians by the way. And if your English language understanding is really advanced, I suggest you watch British comedy for practice. If you can understand British comedy, then your English language really has arrived, you’ve got there, you’re successful in learning, because that is difficult!
Anyway, there you are. Three idioms which are the same in French as in English. And I like to speak French sometimes because I can demonstrate that it’s normal, it’s OK to have an accent which isn’t perfect. But I await your feedback on my French!
- So ‘La cerise sur le gateau’ – the cherry on the top of the cake.
- ‘Avoir les yeux plus gros que le ventre’ – ‘to have eyes bigger than your stomach’ (or your ‘belly’)
- Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé – it’s not my cup of tea.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.