Non mais! Qu’ils leur montrent de quel bois ils se chauffent!

Oh, you are gonna love this phrase…

Non mais! Qu’ils leur montrent de quel bois ils se chauffent!

naw MAY! keel luhr MAW-truh duh kell BWAH eel suh SHOWF! 

Yeah! Show ’em what you’re made of! + On FIRE!

Our team’s “fire” burns hotter, their desire to win is more intense, their performance on the field is superior…  The French expression captures all of these. But (you may wonder) what are we “really” (i.e. literally) saying? Okay, here’s the goofy literal version (literal translations are usually goofy): No but! Let them show them what wood they warm themselves with!

Okay, so that’s not what we’re really saying.

The beauty of idiomatic expressions is the image they create, the feeling they evoke, not their literal sense. What we’re “really” expressing is not the literal translation, but resides somewhere inside of it: the joy of a great play, our pride in our team, our hope and confidence that we can win, we will win.

Of course, you can say “No, but…” in a conversation, and mean it as an objection. It will come at the beginning of a sentence in which you detail your counter-argument, and it will sound more like this:

With the intonation at the top of this page (play the audio file again! you’ll hear that it’s completely different) it’s a positive expression, used to express hearty approval. Try it somewhere: “I’m giving you the keys to my red convertible. Take it for a spin! –Non mais!” “I don’t want these chocolate chip cookies. You can have them. –Non mais!”

It’s a little like saying, “No way!”

Now for the rest of the phrase: The French-speaking sports fans are talking to each other, about their team. American sports fans have a tendency to talk to their team. Go, go! Hit ’em! You idiot! Show ’em what you’re made of! Is there a reason? Nah. But I think it’s interesting. Languages are full of irrational curiosities.

(Thanks to my friend and colleague Isabelle for suggesting today’s phrase!)

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