We get up on Sunday morning after going back onto winter time and all the clocks are an hour out. “Il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure, c’est le cas de le dire”. “Resetting the clocks” is an expression in French which means to put the record straight or put things in their right place.
Ce garçon devient impossible. Son succès lui monte à la tête. Il faudra remettre les pendules à l’heure. – That boy is getting impossible. Success has gone to his head. He needs to be brought down a peg.
Ce débat devient stérile. Il faut remettre les pendules à l’heure. – This discussion is getting out of hand. We need to get back on track.
So where does the French expression come from? Well, you know all those war and spy films where the characters all synchronise their watches so that their mission will be a success? That’s all it is!
Talking about pendules, the French have several different words for time-pieces: horloge, pendule, réveil, montre come to mind.
Horloge is used when it’s a big clock: l’horloge de la gare (station clock), horloge de l’église (church clock), horloge normande or de parquet or comtoise (grandfather clock), horloge astronomique (astronomical clock), etc.
Pendule obviously corresponds to pendulum so is used for a pendulum clock and a cuckoo clock (pendule à coucou), for instance, but can also be used for any clock (except an alarm clock) as in remettre les pendules à l’heure. But when the pendule is in a grandfather clock, it’s becomes horloge!
An alarm clock is always called a réveil or réveil-matin (a morning wake-up clock). Il faut mettre le réveil à 8 heures – you’ll have to set the alarm for 8 (o’clock). A travel alarm clock is a réveil de voyage.
Watch and montre indicate the same object with a few variations according to type. A wrist watch is a montre-bracelet, a fob watch is montre de gousset (which gave our word gusset), a watch with a winder is a montre à remontoir and a diver’s watch is a montre de plongée. The others are vitually the same: montre analogue/digital/numérique/de précision/à quartz/à répétition = analog/digital/precision/quartz/repeating.
There are all sorts of expressions that revolve around the word clock that are sometimes rendered by montre in French and sometimes by horloge or heure or something else again!
A race against the clock = une course contre la montre
To keep your eyes on the clock = surveiller l’heure
To work around the clock = travailler vingt-quatre heures d’affilée
To do something by the clock = faire quelquechose en respectant l’horaire
To turn the clock back = revenir en arrière
I’m sure you have lots of other examples of time-related expressions to share!