Duncan's blog

September 24, 2019

Donnez-moi un break, Boris!

Filed under: Politics — duncan @ 8:27 pm

This catchphrase made it into the news recently after Boris Johnson used it in an interview. I think quite a few people were amused by Boris’s schoolboy-level Franglais for ‘give me a break’.

“This stuff about it being anti-democratic — I mean, donnez-moi un break,”

‘Donnez-moi un break’: Johnson says he seeks Brexit deal

This isn’t the first time he’s used this phrase though. In fact it seems to be quite a favourite of his.

Here he is using the same phrase in March 2016:
“Donnez-moi un break, as we say in Brussels”

And here’s a Boris quote out of the Daily Telegraph in November 2012, taken from The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson:
“My message to M van Rumpay is donnez-moi un break, mate. The people in Brussels must have been out of their tiny minds.”

Another book of Boris quotes, The essential Boris Johnson: lend me your ears, from 2003,
“Donnez-moi un break, as we say in Brussels”

And here’s an article by Boris in the Spectator from 1994.

So it’s certainly one of his stock phrases.

Here’s some people expressing their thoughts on his most recent usage of the phrase:

Perhaps if you speak French this is just a common phrase, but I thought it unusual enough to do a bit more investigation. I wondered if he’d actually come up with this himself… a trawl through Google turns up this:

Firstly, here’s a song, “Break”, from 2018 by Dead Obies from Montreal, where the phrase “Donne-moi un break” is repeated several times.

And here’s another song, from 2017, “Donne-moi un break” by La Patente.

Here’s a couple blog posts from an author based in Montreal, using it in 2011 and 2015.

And a few other random blog posts and other sites using the phrase, or “donne-toi un break”; several (or all?) of them based in Canada

And here’s yet another song from 2006 (I think), by SemiBruce, also from Montreal, “donne moi un break”.

And way before all that, French Kiss, a Meg Ryan romantic comedy from 1995, set in Paris and Cannes.
With this vine, I’m going to make a great vineyard and get out of this shithole.
Donnez-moi un break. You can’t make a vineyard out of one vine.
No, not one vine.

Google Books turns up a couple books on language. Firstly, Slang: The Authoritative Topic By Topic Dictionary Of American Lingoes From All Walks Of Life, 1998,
“Give me a break. Explained by a sixteen-year old from Connecticut: “It’s a French- class thing. Anyone with a minimal French background will recognize ‘give me a,’ and they assume that break means break. Break is French for station wagon…”

And here’s one from 1982, Language Problems & Language Planning
“Despite stigmatization, break has expanded in usage beyond the ice hockey meaning ‘break-away play’ to include ‘a pause or interruption,’ as in prendre un break and ‘a chance’, as in donnez-moi un break ‘give me a break’.”

So I think we can conclude, Boris Johnson didn’t come up with this phrase, it definitely dates back to at least 1982. And it seems fairly common in Canadian French at least (and Brussels, if we can trust Boris as a reliable source).

1 Comment »

  1. […] turmoil, probably in the hope of conjuring up his old public persona as a witty speaker. And well-rehearsed the joke was, Johnson having publicly made it since at least March 1994, 25 years before the first Brexit […]

    Pingback by Blog: Le Brexit? Bof! French attitudes to the UK’s departure | Brexit Compliance News — November 7, 2019 @ 9:04 am | Reply


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