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French Expression of the Day: Pleurer comme une madeleine

Why do I need to know pleurer comme une madeleine ?

Because it can be confusing to imagine why a madeleine cake might cry.

What does it mean?

Pleurer comme une madeleine roughly pronounced pler-ay kohm oon mahd-eh-lenn – translates literally to “cry like a Madeleine” which means to sob or cry a lot. 

A similar expression in English might be to cry one’s eyes out, or to cry like a baby. 

The French expression is biblical in origin – it refers to Mary Magdalene, known in the religious text as a former prostitute. In the Bible, there is a scene where Mary Magdalene covered Jesus’ feet in tears as she confessed her sins and received forgiveness. 

French has had many expressions implicating Mary Magdalene, prior to the 19th century, if one was to “faire la Madeleine” (make the Madeleine” that meant to “feign repentance.” In the 19th century, the expression pleurer comme une Madeleine became popular, in part due to its use by the classic writer Balzac. 

Over time, the phrase has come to describe a person whose tears or weeping is considered to be excessive or unjustified, though it can also be used to simply describe someone who is crying a lot.

In the first sense, the expression might be more similar to the English one of “crocodile tears.”

It has nothing to do with the delicious little shell-shaped sponge cake known as a madeleine, although the cake (via the author Marcel Proust) has inspired its own expression une madeleine de proust, which means a taste, smell, sight or sound that brings back a rush of memories or intense emotions.

Use it like this

J’ai dit à ma fille d’arrêter de pleurer comme une madeleine après avoir dû rendre le jouet de son frère qu’elle avait pris sans demander la permission. – I told my daughter to stop crying her eyes out over having to give back her brother’s toy that she had taken without permission.

On ne savait pas si ses larmes étaient authentiques quand elle pleurait comme une madeleine, mais le spectacle a duré longtemps. – We did not know if the tears were authentic when she was sobbing her heart out, but the ordeal went on for a long time.



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