Plein comme un oeuf

Goose egg

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Plein comme un œuf.”

Literally translated as, “full as an egg,” it is a colloquial simile applied to a thing or a place that’s completely full; close English equivalents would be “filled to the brim” or “packed to the gills.” Note that it can’t be applied to a person*: “full” here is not to be understood as having a full stomach, because the French adjective plein is not used in that sense.

Example: “Je peux mettre mes baskets dans ta valise ? La mienne est pleine comme un œuf.” “Can I put my sneakers in your suitcase? Mine is full as an egg.”

(In writing, the proper verbal construction would be “Puis-je mettre mes baskets dans ta valise ?” In common speach, however, it is the upward intonation that indicates the interrogation, and we skip the verb inversion.)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:


(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

This expression has been around since the late seventeenth century at least, and it is one I love using. The reasoning is easy to understand: the white and yolk of an egg fill it entirely, and it would be impossible to squeeze anything more inside the shell.

Nitpickers in the crowd will argue that an air pocket develops inside the egg as it ages** — this is caused by the gradual evaporation of its water content through the porous shell — until it’s not so full anymore. A more accurate version of the expression might then be plein comme un oeuf fraîchement pondu (full as a freshly laid egg), but I’m not sure how well that would take.

[Photo note: pictured above are goose eggs, which may be placed in espresso cups if you don't have the appropriate size of coquetiers.]

* I did find one 1865 reference that said plein comme un oeuf meant “drunk,” but that usage is not confirmed by other sources and has not survived, though plein comme une barrique (full as a barrel) and plein comme un coing (full as a quince) mean exactly that.

** This fact conveniently helps determine how old an egg is. Lower an egg gently in a bowl of fresh water: if it sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it’s very fresh. The older the egg gets, the more it will lift from the bottom of the bowl by one end, until it stands upright.

  • Emilie

    Thanks, because even if I’m a french speaker I didn’t know this idiom.

  • Jenny

    Doesn’t “plein” when applied to a person mean “pregnant?” Yup, you definitely want to be careful with that one!

    • moi

      This is only used when referring to a canine, if you called a woman ” plein” it would be rude.

  • lina

    Interesting. In Swedish, the literal translation has the meaning noted at the end, “full som ett ägg” definitely describes somebody very drunk. But then, Swedish uses the word “full” for both drunk and full in the sense of “plein”, though not for having a full stomach. Kind of confusing, but funny.

  • http://www.thenervouscook.com The Nervous Cook

    What a great post, and what a great idea, the edible idiom! (Today’s might even rightly be called the incredible edible idiom.)

  • http://thelacquerspoon.blogspot.com the lacquer spoon

    Thanks for the info! There isn’t such an expression in Japanese, but it comes to me everytime I cook an egg from now on :)

  • kim

    I think I heard it in Dutch before here in Flanders, but used after a very full dinner – “I’m as full as an egg”.

  • http://twoburners.wordpress.com Scott DC

    Great post! Speaking of full eggs…its almost asparagus season which means Bacon Wrapped Asparagus dipped in a Soft Boiled Egg!

  • Isabelle

    Hi

    @ Jenny:

    In French you’ll use the adjective “pleine” to say that an animal is expecting. It is not applied to a pregnant woman… unless you are being intentionally and extremely vulgar.

  • http://ciliegino.delirinotturni.net barbara

    Ciao Clotilde!
    In Italian we use the same expression: pieno come un uovo :D
    Have a nice week end.

  • http://www.inolongerlikechocolates.com Kathie

    In English we say that items (or a group of people) are “crammed in like sardines,” evoking a can (tin) of the little fish.

  • Alix

    What word/phrase is used, then, to describe having a full stomach? Just in case I should get to France and eat too much… ;-)

  • http://commontable.blogspot.com/ Jenny M.

    I love this series! I teach an online French class, and I always refer my students to this section of your blog when we talk about idioms. Merci!

    In Provence — and doubtless elsewhere in France — there are traditional gifts associated with the birth of a child: a loaf of bread, salt, an egg, and a matchstick. Each gift has a wish connected with it: Que l’enfant soit bon comme le bon pain, sage comme le sel, plein comme un oeuf, et droit comme une allumette. (I may have the order wrong…) I always think of “plein comme un oeuf” in this context as meaning “replete” — i.e., filled with all good things. Do I have that right — does anyone know?

  • http://tastycolours.blogspot.com Magdalena

    Hello Clotilde.
    I really like to read those little stories. My French is still weak, in particular as regards idiomatic expressions…We do not have a similar expressions in Polish, I think.

  • http://aehrelichgesagt.blogspot.com/ Daniel

    Funny. I love the use of full in German: you say “Ich bin satt” when you’ve had enough to eat, which means “I’m satisfied”. You would say “Ich bin voll” when you mean to say you’re drunk.

  • http://www.charlies-garden.net Helen

    In Australia we say “Full as a goog” which generally refers to eating or drinking to excess, although can be used for suitcases too :-)

    (“googy-egg”=soft boiled egg)

  • Amelia

    In Australia, there is an old-fashioned saying ‘as full as a goog’, where ‘goog’ is slang for egg. It usually means feeling very full due to eating too much.

  • Lisa

    In Australia we have the saying “full as a goog” which comes from the nickname for eggs “googy egg”, don’t ask me where the “googy” comes from though!!!!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    All – Glad you liked this one, thanks for sharing your thoughts and versions in different languages!

    Alix – In French, you would simply say “J’ai assez mangé” (I’ve eaten enough) or “J’ai trop mangé” (I’ve eaten too much).

    Jenny – I never heard of this gift/wish tradition, but I love it. I agree with your interpretation of “plein comme un oeuf” in this context — it’s probably an old usage.

    Helen, Amelia and Lisa – Love that the three of you left more or less the same comment while I was sleeping! :)

  • Cheryl

    Clotilde – as both a linguist and food lover, I’m thrilled to have found your blog! A friend recommended it and I am enjoying it tremendously. Congratulations and keep up the great work!

  • Paula Butturini

    Edible Idiom is simply fabulous; please keep it coming! Paula

  • Gill

    found this blog because we are skiing in France at the moment with the family and went out for a terrific meal last night (1st April 2010). Many years ago we lived in the Middle East and were friendly with a lovely young Frenchman working for the Diplomatic Service out there. We swapped idomatic expressions – and he told us about ‘Plein Comme un Oeuf’, so after a delicious main course, we were asked if we would like a dessert, my husband said to the waitress ‘Non, merci, je suis plein comme un oeuf’ – which caused much hilarity (fortunately, she wasn’t offended in the least!)……. and now we know why ;-). How amazing that it just happened to be the expression this week of all weeks! Thanks for the info!

  • Sheila

    Similar to what Kim said, my Irish grandmother often said “I’m full as an egg” to refuse dessert or another serving. My family continues that usage.

  • sara

    im french and i never heard this expression

  • monique

    enceinte means “pregnant”
    Never heard of the expression “plein comme un oeuf”! who on earth made that up?!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Sara and Monique – There are so many idioms in French, even native French speakers can’t know them all, but I can assure you this one does exist

  • Mara

    I enjoy your posts! I’m brushing up on my French cooking, studying French too on Babbel.com

    They have a lot of food vocabulary there. It’s cool to learn the cooking and language in tandem. The edible idiom is a great idea.

  • http://quiafaim.blogspot.com Lili

    Very interesting post!

    In québécois (or french-canadian) you can say «Je suis plein» when you ate too much. It is commonly used and not the least vulgar. We must have borrowed that from our anglophone neighbours!

  • noriko

    Hello. I’m a big fan of your blog. How pretty are those egg stands. May I ask where I can get them? or is it something you can only get in Paris?

  • abheeti

    in Italian we say ‘pieno come un uovo’ which does refer to having eaten well (too much) and being full!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Noriko – Those are, in fact, espresso cups. They were a gift from a friend years ago, so I’m afraid I can’t share a source.

  • Jack

    Expressions and their origin are so interesting!
    I’m French speaking and didn’t know this expression applied to things. But “plein” is applied to a person who has eaten too much even if you seem to imply that it is not the case. (I enjoy eating and cooking, thanks Clotilde for the recipes ;) and often tell my friends that I’m “plein” and they perfectly understand me ;) )
    When reading through the link with the references: “b) [En parlant de pers.]”
    − Être plein comme un oeuf (pop.). Être repu ou saoul:
    I more easily understand the expression applied to a person who has eaten too much rather than applied to a object. As always expressions are to used with extreme caution by foreigners as even among French speakers the subtleties are not always understood in the same way.

  • Sally

    A comment made in Australia when you have eaten too much is “I am as full as a goog” – goog being slang for egg

  • Peter

    I was taught not to use simply “plein” for being full after a meal, but that “plein comme une outre” is usable French slang for “I’m full”. Someone told me that une outre is some sort of coquillage and when you open the shell there’s no space inside, but to my knowledge it’s a wine skin of days gone by…. either way it’s a sort of “edible idiom” eh?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      I believe “plein comme une outre” refers to the leather flasks they used in antiquity, but I like your explanation too!

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