Sunday, September 26, 2010


Local agricultural fairs are important events in France, a country where one of the most famous sayings  is: "Pâturage et labourage sont les deux mamelles de la France." 

Type that into the Google linguistics tool and out will pop a non-literal translation: "Tilling and grazing are the two mainstays of France."

That sounds less titillating than a word-for-word rendition and reminds me of my high school French teacher who used to insist that we not translate French literally. Having to translate "Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid" (little by little the bird builds its nest) as "Rome wasn't built in a day," always left me vexed. Although he had a point, so much can get lost in translation, especially getting-into-a-culture's-mind-set metaphors.

It was Henri IV's brillant finance minister, Sully (1559-1641), who first pronounced the often-cited phrase which reads in its complete form, "Pâturage et labourage sont les deux mamelles dont la France est alimentée, les vraies mines et trésors du Pérou.

Realizing the importance of agriculture to the wealth and power of France, Sully adopted numerous measures to improve conditions for farmers. Thanks to him livestock and farm tools could no longer be seized for payment of debts, new roads were built and others repaired, canals were constructed, communications improved, free-trading of grains was established and numerous tolls abolished between provinces to facilitate agricultural commerce.
A foresighted individual.

Vocabulary lesson

le pâturage:  grazing, pasturage
le labourage:  tilling, plowing
la mamelle:  teat, breast

Text & photo ©2010 P.B.Lecron


  1. Like I said, keep these coming- love the photo, wish I was lazing while the cows were grazing, ha ha