La gueule enfarinée

I discovered an interesting French expression yesterday while ferreting around in the dictionary – la gueule enfarinée, which literally means ‘the floured mouth’, but actually refers to someone who is ‘wet behind the ears’, i.e. new, untrained, inexperienced, immature, innocent, callow or naive (synonyms from The Chambers Thesaurus).

The word gueule usually refers to the mouth of an animal, and is also a slang word for the human mouth, which is normally bouche. Equivalent words in English include gob, mug, snout, cakehole, kisser, trap, etc – do you have any others? It comes from the Old French gole, from the Latin gula (gullet, throat, gluttony, palate), which is also the root of the English word gullet.

Why having a floury mouth is a sign of being inexperienced is a mystery to me. Does anyone know the origins of this expression?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to La gueule enfarinée

  1. Luke says:

    Because eating raw flour is a rookie mistake?
    /I’ll show myself out

  2. dreaminjosh says:

    Maybe this will shed some light?

    I don’t know, I always felt like “gueule” meant neither “mouth” nor “face” really. The closest I can think is “snout”. It works for animals like bears, dogs, wolves, and cats whose noses and mouths more or less are two parts of one anatomical feature. When using it with humans it sounds super rude, but it’s so funny. It’d be lake telling someone to get their “paws” off of you. Obviously we don’t have paws because we have opposable thumbs but it just sounds harsher. Same with “geuele”. We have a distinguishable mouth, nose and face- but “ferme ta bouche” sounds like an overly polite person who’s really annoyed.

    I researched a little bit and “geuele enfarinée” seems to refer to the powdered faces of clowns and other performers during the renaissance who would go out to perform, naively confident that they’d be a smash hit, which was their goal. So, to append to the meaning of “wet behind the ears”, apparently it means this:

    Familier. La bouche, la gueule (dans la langue populaire) enfarinée, le bec enfariné, dans un état de confiance niaise, ridicule ; avec un air de satisfaction impudente.

  3. Guillaume says:

    It actually comes from one of Jean de la Fontaine’s fables: Le chat et le vieux rat (The cat and the old rat). In that fable, the cat disguise himself using flour and hiding to catch the rats. He caught rats until the old experienced rat warned the rat general not to go near that floured block because he thought it might be a trap.

    The cat was too confident his simple ruse would work!