Most of the time, we’re thankful for Fridays. However, sometimes, like today, Friday falls on the 13th, making it un vendredi treize and a day of sheer panic for the superstitious. So, on this Friday the 13th, let’s talk about bad luck and the French expression, porter la poisse. Find out what it means, how to use it, and learn about related expressions! Here’s your comprehensive guide…
To bring the bad luck.
To be / bring bad luck.
The Story Behind It
Well, the literal translation gives it away, doesn’t it? 😉 Mais plongeons-nous dans l’histoire de cette expression. Allons plus loin. Let’s dive deeper.
If you’re wondering where the odd-sounding la poisse [la pwas] comes from, just so you know, it’s not le poisson (fish)! Instead, it comes from la poix, which is a sticky glue made from pine resin. This tar-like substance was used to waterproof and seal the undersides of boats, and the action of smearing it on something became the verb, poisser. This, in turn, gave us the deverbal noun, la poisse, or bad luck.
So what does la poisse have to do with misfortune? People observed that, once applied, this viscous material became incredibly difficult to remove. I daresay it likely made a giant mess too. (If you’ve ever accidentally stepped in tar and tracked it everywhere, you’ll know what I mean!) These troubles were then associated with the belief that bad luck “stuck” to people, following them around and ruining their lives. Therefore, something that brings la poisse is something that could create a very “sticky situation,” or even lead you to a “sticky end,” as we might say in English. In other words, la poisse invites trouble.
Grammar and Usage
Porter la poisse is an informal expression. In a formal setting or in formal writing, you should use porter malheur.
To say something brings bad luck to someone, use the structure: porter la poisse à quelqu’un (examples: à Tiger Woods, aux équipes, aux Français, etc.). This also means you can use les COI—me, te, nous, vous, lui, and leur—as demonstrated in the third example below.
The expression can also be used reflexively: se porter la poisse. This means to bring bad luck upon oneself or jinx oneself. (See the fourth example below.)
Finally, you’ll often come across porter la poisse in sports-related articles and discussions about not wanting to jinx one’s team or how certain players bring bad luck. Interestingly, it’s frequently used in competitive cycling. (Perhaps it’s the nightmarish idea of bicycle wheels mired in tar?)
- To jinx.
- Porter l’oeil.
- Porter la guigne.
Related Expressions / Variations
The keyword is la poisse and there are other ways to use it:
- La poisse
This functions as an informal synonym for la malchance / le malheur (bad luck).
La poisse can be used in sentences like: la poisse continue, la poisse le poursuit, la poisse touche l’équipe, etc.
- Un jour / Une semaine de poisse
A day / week of bad luck.
- Le porte-poisse
An unlucky charm or jinx. This usually describes people who bring misfortune!
- Quelle poisse ! (= Quelle malchance !)
What rotten luck!
- Avoir la poisse
To have bad luck, generally for a long time.
- Être dans la poisse
To be in trouble.
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© 2019 French à la folie.