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Mettre le doigt

French expressions analyzed and explained


Mettre le doigt
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Expression: Mettre le doigt

Pronunciation: [meh tr(eu) leu dwa]

Mettre le doigt can be used literally to talk about putting a finger over the hole of a musical instrument, such as a flute or trumpet, but it's more commonly used in one of several idiomatic French expressions:

1) Mettre le doigt dans l'engrenage, literally "to put the finger in the gears," means to get involved.

   Je ne veux pas mettre le doigt dans l'engrenage.
   I don't want to get involved.

2) Mettre le doigt sur la plaie, literally "to put the finger on the wound," figuratively means to touch/hit a (raw) nerve, to mention a sensitive subject.

   Avec ma question innocente, j'ai mis le doigt sur la plaie par hasard.
   With my innocent question, I inadvertently hit a nerve.

3) Mettre le doigt sur le problème and mettre le doigt sur la difficulté mean to put one's finger on the problem/difficulty, to figure out a problem or difficulty.

   Nous avons enfin mis le doigt sur le problème.
   We finally figured out the problem.

4) Se mettre le doigt dans l'œil (jusqu'au coude), literally "to put one's finger in one's eye (up to the elbow)," is an informal French expression that means to be kidding oneself, to have another think coming. (Variation: se fourrer le doigt dans l'œil)

   Elle se mettait le doigt dans l'œil.
   She was fooling herself.

Proverb: Entre l'arbre et l'écorce il ne faut pas mettre le doigt, literally "Between the tree and the bark you mustn't put your finger," really means "You shouldn't meddle in other people's business."

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