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Traîner des casseroles

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Traîner des casseroles

Frequently used in politics, the expression is one for the image conscious. It translates literally as dragging saucepans, as if those were tied to your feet. Trainer des casseroles means to be burdened by one's embarrassing past actions or involvements. In English, you'd say having skeletons in the closet, or simply being compromised. You'll hear the expression in any public domains where perceptions matter, to describe a person whose reputation is sullied by scandals.

It's important to note that a casserole and une casserole have different meaning in English and French, despite looking and sounding similar.

A French casserole is what we'd call a saucepan in English. The English casserole is a number of things in French - none of which is a saucepan. If referring to the dish the food is prepared in, it would translate as un plat à four, or une marmite (Dutch oven.) If referring to the food itself, the closest translations would be un gratin (often with cheese or cream), or un ragoût (if it includes meat.)

Origin

According to lexicographers, traîner des casseroles comes from a cruel joke that kids used to play in the old days - at a time when it was normal for kids to play outside in the streets. They would tie a saucepan to the tail of a stray dog. The poor dog would get terrified and thrash about to get rid of the object and the noise, making matters worse. We need only imagine a politician trying to shake off a history of bad decisions to see why this expression works. With his/her every move, the trailing saucepans ring and the negative press coverage begins anew. It is loud, inconvenient and totally embarrassing.

The metaphor of the saucepan as an embarrassing affair was first recorded in 1902 during the Dreyfus affair. L'Affaire Dreyfus was a 12-year long scandal involving a Jewish military officer who was unjustly accused of treason. Two well-known writers clashed over his innocence: Émile Zola and Maurice Barrès. The latter commented that Zola had attached himself to the thundering saucepan that was the whole affair. That is how la casserole made its formal entrance into French politics.

Examples

Elle ne parle jamais de son passé. J’ai l’impression qu’elle traîne des casseroles.
She never talks about her past. I have a feeling she has skeletons in her closet.

Il aurait aimé se présenter aux élections mais tout le monde sait qu'il traîne des casseroles judiciaires qui le disqualifient.
He would have liked to run for the elections but everyone knows he has legal problems that disqualify him.

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