C’est ce qu’on appelle…

28 Jan

…être dans de beaux draps (litterally, “to find oneself in some pretty – ironic tone – sheets!”…you said, what??)!

Baby G in some deep/pretty sheets... :)

Baby G in some deep sheet… 🙂

être dans de beaux draps


(idiomatic) To be up the creek without a paddle; be in trouble; be in a pickle; be in a spot of bother.

Etymology: white sheets worn for the atonement of one’s sins. (Source: Wiktionnaire)

To be in a right fix/mess (Source: Le Grand Robert & Collins)

French definition :

Être dans une position très fâcheuse. Autrefois on renforçait encore la locution par l’épithète ironique blancs : « Ah ! coquines, vous nous mettez dans de beaux draps blancs ! » (Molière)
Cette locution pittoresque appartient à la catégorie des expressions où beau est pris ironiquement, comme beau sire, beau museau, cela vous fera une belle jambe.
(Source : Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions traditionnelles, Maurice Rat, Larousse – un ouvrage qui m’a généreusement été offert par les auteurs du blog Le mot juste en anglais)

Obviously an old expression that is still used in everyday language. I was curious to see how Google Translate would handle it, and I was happy to see it translated the idiom correctly:

Traduire « tu es dans de beaux draps » en Anglais : « tu es dans de beaux draps » – « You’re in trouble » (Source: translate.google.com)

BabelFish, not so much :

Please find your translated text below:

  • tu es dans de beaux draps (French)
  • you are in beautiful sheets (English)

Expressions and idioms remain a translation difficulty that make a professional translator irreplaceable. There are so many variables — context, audience, tone, register – we have yet to see the day when a machine can match that human skillset (see Nataly Kelly’s fantastic article on the subject: Why Machines Alone Can Not Solve the World’s Translation Problem). Hardware and software help us do our job better, from word processing software with spell check to computer-assisted translation software, from on-line and digital dictionaries to web research and e-mail correspondence or file exchange on the cloud, we work much more efficiently today than we ever have.

That is until there are technical difficulties. I rely on so much technology to work at home (or in an office), it makes me more vulnerable. There are more things that can go wrong, and I have endured them all this past winter: computer crash, computer virus, internet connection failure, software bug, corrupted files, printer driver no longer available making my printer obsolete, power outage… In those situations, I feel like I am “up a creek without a paddle” and want to scream! Because when one thing stops working, it seems to be contagious and the others follow.

Thankfully, I have wonderful tech support but I also live in a world where I can find a wifi connection in almost any restaurant, and after a rough night with no power or heat a couple of weeks ago when temperatures dropped to below freezing, I was able to transfer my files from my desktop (using my power back-up to turn it on) to the laptop with a thumb drive. And then finalize my editing job and e-mail the files out before the deadline from an IHOP – I had not been to one in years but the heat, warm eggs, bacon, banana pancakes and coffee made for the best breakfast I have ever had!

We don’t realize how much we need something until it is gone – and at that point, “on est dans de beaux draps”.

4 Réponses to “C’est ce qu’on appelle…”

  1. John Price février 1, 2014 à 16:35 #

    Machines will likely not replace translators but they could reduce the number of them. In future, technology will likely make each translator more productive as much of the mundane aspects of the job can be automated. This in turn will mean that the best translators will take a much larger percentage of the total market. This ‘winner-take-all’ effect is evident in other fields such a publishing, in which the total number authors has been reduced, but the profits of the top authors has been increasing dramatically. This is partially due to the ease at which books can be published and distributed thanks to technology. It increases the total market, but the benefits are captured by a very few. This phenomenon is also evident in professional sport. It is more widely available than ever thanks to technology but this increase is captured by a small number of athletes. I can imagine the translation industry being affected by this same phenomenon.

    • FrenchNad février 21, 2014 à 11:43 #

      Thank you John for your interesting points coming from an economics background. If anything, technology enhances a translator’s existing skills, but does not replace them. We work faster and better thanks to hardware and software. I can’t imagine translating back in the days of typewriters and faxes, much less by hand (bless the monks who translated and copied the Bible by hand!).

  2. Roberrrrr le Vaeth ;) février 21, 2014 à 10:26 #

    Indeed… up « sheet » creek without a paddle. My God, I love languages!!! The range and depth of expression in each language… the common themes portrayed in such diverse illustrations.

    • FrenchNad février 21, 2014 à 11:44 #

      Thanks Robert for your comment! Endless discoveries, fun adventures – languages never get boring indeed!


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