Without one red halfpenny

When putting together this week’s French words and expressions from the French Conversation Group today, I discovered some interesting French and Welsh equivalents of ‘(to be) broke’.

In French the equivalent of broke (penniless) is fauché or if you’re really broke fauché comme les blés (broke like wheat). To be broke is être fauché and to go broke is faire faillite. Synonyms for fauché include:

- abattu = downcast
- besogneux = hard-working
- chipé = pinched
- coupé = cut
- démuni = destitute
- désargenté = impoverished
- misérable = miserable
- pauvre = poor
- ruiné = ruined
- tondu = chopped / shorn
- volé = robbed

In Welsh there are quite a few different ways to say that you’re penniless:

- heb yr un geiniog = ‘without a single penny’
- heb yr un ddimai goch y delyn = ‘without a single red halfpenny of the harp’
- heb gragen i ymgrafu = ‘without a shell to rub’
- heb yr un ffado = ‘without a ?’
- heb yr un ffaden beni = ‘without a ?’

There are also quite a few ways to express the same meaning in English, including:

- broke / stony-broke / flat broke
- skint
- bankrupt
- bust
- cleaned out
- without a penny to one’s name / a red cent
- on one’s uppers
- penniless
- stony-broke
- strapped for cash
- without two pennies/cents to rub together
- boracic / brassic = boracic lint* = skint (rhyming slang) – I knew that word boracic meant penniless, but never realised it was rhyming slang until now.

* According to Wikipedia, “Boracic lint was a type of medical dressing made from surgical lint that was soaked in a hot, saturated solution of boracic acid and glycerine and then left to dry. It has been in use since at least the 19th century, but is now less commonly used.”

Sources: Reverso, L’Internaute, Geiriadur yr Academi, Wikitionary.

Do you use any of these, or do you have other expressions for being skint?

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This entry was posted in English, French, Irish, Language, Welsh.

6 Responses to Without one red halfpenny

  1. Dennis King says:

    fauché comme les blés (broke like wheat)

    The idiom makes more sense in French, since “faucher” literally means “to reap, mow down”.

    In Irish you can be without a “cianóg rua” or a “bonn bán”: níl bonn bán aige.

  2. Jerry says:

    In Dutch there is “blut” – not sure where that is coming from. There are a few from the list that are used: “bankroet” = bankrupt, for example. “Berooid” is another one.

    More interesting is a word you don’t hear a lot anymore: “platzak”. Literally, it’s “flatpocket”, which of course describes what it means perfectly.

    Also interesting is an expression that is related to the red penny: “geen rooie cent hebben” = “not having a single red cent”. This expression apparently is from when the first cents were made in Holland (1816, which was also when the decimal system was used for currency), of red copper.

    And finally there is the expression “geen nagel om je kont te krabben”, meaning “not having a nail to scratch your butt”. Honest.

  3. Froggie says:

    For broke, my grandmother used to say to be “raide (stiff) comme un passe-lacet”. Sorry, I don’t know the English word for “passe-lacet”. It’s this small device used in sewing to insert an elastic band.
    There is also “ne pas avoir un sou vaillant” (approximately “not to have one penny’s worth”) and “ne pas avoir un radis” (not to have one radish).

  4. Sathyarthi says:

    - How about the expressions ‘down at heel’ and ‘out at elbows’ in English…?!

  5. Michel says:

    I have never seen any “besogneux” to be broke unless he/she is “volé” !! Froggie’s expressions are excellent, still in use, and picture exactly the state of our finances in this beloved country.

  6. Yenlit says:

    I was hoping someone would recognise and explain the Welsh example: “ffado” and “ffaden beni” because I’ve never heard of these words and I’ve asked and passed around to other Welsh speakers all of whom don’t know it?
    We all assume it must be a South Walian term but could it be an obsolete rendering into Welsh of the English slang term for an old farthing (a fourth of an old penny) a “fadge” = ffado/ffaden? The “beni” looks like one again a Welsh rendering of English “penny”:
    heb yr un fado – without a fadge ie. farthing?