C’est un vrai manche à balai.
say uh vray mah shah baa-LAY. Click below to hear this.*
He’s a real stringbean.
I’ll bet you already knew that a stringbean is un haricot vert. I can buy them frozen, labeled as such, in my supermarket. And they are indeed very thin, like the person being described here.
But let’s sweep all that aside. (Uh-oh, very bad pun. Sorry.) Un manche à balai is a broomhandle or a broomstick, which is also pretty skinny, and a common way to describe a thin person.
Why do we say C’est instead of Il est? The rule is that you use il est or elle est to describe a person’s profession or nationality, or with an adjective. There’s no article in these sentences: Il est professeur, Elle est fatiguée, Elle est Belge.
On the other hand, you use c’est in the company of a modified noun. That means a noun with an adjective “stuck” to it. You also need to use an article in that case. The whole thing comes as a package: C’est un bon professeur, C’est une excellente artiste.
Things get even more exciting in this expression, however! Did you know that this sentence can also be translated as She’s a real stringbean? Oh yes. We can’t say une manche à balai, because une manche is a sleeve, not a handle. So we are forced to say C’est un vrai manche à balai, whether we are talking about Pierre or his twin sister Pierrette.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: