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Chercher midi à 14h

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Chercher midi à 14h

Admittedly, Einstein taught us that time is relative.  But looking for noon when it's 2pm seems a bit of a waste of time, and everybody knows you won't find it there.  The literal translation could make you think you are trying to do something too late.  After all, at 2pm, noon is long gone.  But that's idiomatic language for you.  If you hear tu cherches midi à 14h in a French conversation, what it really means is that you are turning something simple into something complicated, you're doing it the hard way, you're overcomplicating matters.

You might also use the expression to mean that someone has lost perspective or has gotten so caught up in a project that they are overdoing it.

You'll also often hear the expression in the negative form, such as il ne faut pas chercher midi à 14h - let's not overcomplicate matters.

Origin

Oddly enough, in the 16th century, the expression was seeking noon at 11am.  It then evolved into its current form a century later, and no one knows for sure why 2pm came to replace 11am.  One theory is that the expression collapsed with another close expression used in some rural areas: seeking noon until 2pm.  The first expression implies that you're looking for something where it is not.  The second goes a little further: you're spending a very long time looking for something that was right in front of you to start with.  In both cases, you're clearly complicating your life.

What is clearer is the choice of the term noon.  Indeed, noon is the easiest time to tell: the sun is at its zenith, the hunger nags the stomach. It is also the obvious border between morning and afternoon. Anybody can spot noon on a clock, but to look for noon at any other time is never going to be simple. You would have to move to another planet.  That's hard work alright.

Examples

Pas besoin de chercher midi à 14h; plus les instructions seront simples, mieux elles seront suivies.
Let's keep things simple; the simpler the instructions, the better they will be followed.

Tout est compliqué avec lui; il cherche toujours midi à 14h.
Everything is complicated with him; he always does things the hard way.

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