some very French expressions

France is the country of great food, cheese and of course wine. On important occasions when eating with friends and family, we tend to have some wine. But not only for special events, wine accompanies French people just for the art of tasting and appreciating it. 

For this expression we speak of adding “mettre” some water “de l’eau” into the wine “dans son vin”. But let’s see why people would dilute wine.

The history and meaning of this phrase

This medieval turn of phrase was born at a time where it was common to thin wine down using water. It was a means of making the drink less drunkenning and more thirst-slaking, so as to preserve people from commiting crimes.

At first, its meaning was also to “faire passer sa colère”, literally make the anger disappear or just calm down. However, nowadays it is rather related to moderating one’s pretensions and ambitions. It means to be more moderate.

In 1636, Fleury de Bellingen attributed it this definition: “to moderate one’s passions like the excessive heat of wine is tempered by mixing some water to it”. As established before, it no longer refers to the passions but to one’s exigencies and pretensions that should be moderated. 

When do we use this expression?

Like you could appreciate before, this is an expression that recalls the humility of the spirit, so it can be used when someone has, for example, an air of superiority. Let’s see the next excerpt of Stupeur et Tremblements by Amélie Nothomb: 

Moi, quand j’étais petite, je voulais devenir Dieu. Le Dieu des chrétiens, avec un grand D. Vers l’âge de cinq ans, j’ai compris que mon ambition était irréalisable. Alors, j’ai mis un peu d’eau dans mon vin et j’ai décidé de devenir le Christ. — (Amélie Nothomb, Stupeur et Tremblements, Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, 1999)

We can see that the person speaking used to have great ambitions: becoming the Christian God. Nonetheless, this person realized that was a lot to ask and lowered those expectations, diluted wine or in French “il a mis de l’eau dans son vin”.

Have you faced a situation in which you had to moderate your pretensions? Do you know an equivalent expression in your language(s)?

We have set up some quizzes so that you can better understand this expression. Just click below to access these quizzes.

Written by Ingrid Hernadez

some very French expressions

some very French expressions