C’est lui la grosse légume de l’entreprise.
say lwee lah gross lay-gewm duh lah-truh-PREEZ. Click below to hear this.*
He’s the big cheese in the company.
Let’s begin at the end, shall we? Une entreprise looks like an undertaking, which I suppopse it is in a basic sense, but it means company or corporation. So who’s the boss?
He is. C’est lui la grosse légume. It looks as if he is the big vegetable, which he is–and isn’t. Are we mixing our food groups here?
The English says he’s the big cheese. In French, it would appear that he is the big vegetable–except that in the kitchen, a vegetable is un légume, not une légume, which is what we have here. Inexplicably, an ordinary veggie turns feminine when it designates the big boss.
That has nothing to do with whether the boss is a man or a woman, and it has no implications concerning the boss’s gender identity. I suspect that it has more to do with avoiding an insult to the boss. Rather than calling the boss a vegetable, which might imply an inability to act and a lack of personality, it’s simply a jocular way to refer to the central role that the boss plays in the company.
After all, in a French meal, the star is not always the protein. It is often the veggies, which is a good thing to remember for our physical health (balanced diet, you know) but also our mental health (honor the boss; he signs the paychecks!).
*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: