Friday’s French – cloche

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One of the most significant differences between French and English technical vocabulary is that the French terms often describe appearance while the English terms refer to purpose or use.

A prime example is cloche. It’s original meaning is bell, as in church bell, with clochette used to signify the smaller version. Church bells live in clochers, there being no distinction between the pointy ones (steeples) and the square ones (church towers).


However, it is also means the lid used to cover a plate to keep the contents hot or to cover a cheese platter, because it roughly looks like a bell.

This has given rise to derivatives such as déclocher, to uncover a plate.

There is a verb clocher that actually has nothing to do with cloche and derives from low Latin clocca, whereas clocher comes from the popular Latin cloppicare meaning “to limp”. It has given a series of familiar expressions meaning that something isn’t right.

Qu’est-ce qui cloche? = what’s up ? what’s gone wrong ?

Il y a quelque chose qui  cloche (in which someone is saying) = Something’s not right. That doesn’t make sense.

Il y a quelque chose qui cloche dans le moteur = There’s something wrong with the engine.

Yesterday we were visiting Château de Villesavin near Chambord and came across another type of cloche or globe in the bridal museum.


At first glance, I thought they were graveyard flowers, which seemed an odd thing to collect, but Jean Michel said his grandmother had one so I took a second look. They were used to keep the bride’s headpiece after the wedding and have a high symbolic content.

It was the bride’s mother who designed and gave the globe to her daughter.


Nearly all of them had mirrors. A mirror means sincerity, only reflecting what it sees. The large mirror in the middle is the marriage mirror, the reflection of life. The small rectangular mirrors are the number of years the couple courted. The small losenge-shaped mirrors are the number of children wanted I (don’t know who decided that though, the bride or the bride’s mother!)


Inside the globes, doves are the symbol of peace, ivy leaves of attachment, grapevine leaves of abundance and prosperity ; oak symbolises strength, love and health, linden fidelity (which is why linden trees are often planted at the entrance of a property), clover means happiness, a sheaf of wheat is to remind the husband that he has to work every day of his life to keep his wife and children happy and daisies are the traditional flowers of lovers.

Does these exist in English-speaking countries?

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5 thoughts on “Friday’s French – cloche”

  1. Once again a terrific overview of a little snippet of French. I didn’t know about clocher — must try and remember it.

    I’m sure the practice of keeping the bridal headdress somewhat like this exists in the anglo world, with any real flowers dried in borax to preserve them, then the whole thing encased in a glass cloche . The symbolism of the flowers and plants smacks of the Language of Flowers, a 19thC marketing device by a French florist, which also transferred to the anglo world. I’ve never encountered the mirror thing though, but it can only have existed from the 19thC too, because before that small mirrors of this type wouldn’t have been available. There are a lot of these sorts of ‘traditions’ that were made up in the 19th century for various reasons — often to foster patriotism or as a means of providing income in poor communities (eg Tourangeau bonnets and other lace making). In this case I suspect it has to do with that combination of sentimentality and comfortable living that many people achieved in the period. Most of these ‘traditions’ had a lifespan of about a century.

  2. I didn’t realise that some traditions were artificial! I should have looked at the dates more carefully. It is an unusual museum and the dummies are of better quality than at Chenonceau. An amazing collection of wedding dresses as well.

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