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C'est un navet!

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C'est un navet!

This phrase is something you wouldn't be surprised to hear at a farmer's market, since un navet (with silent t) is French for turnip.  But what would you make of it if you heard the phrase at the Cannes Film Festival?

It so happens that, by a twist of fate, this humble vegetable has become a synonym for a really bad movie in French.  If you like turnips, you will find this totally unfair.  But the fact is, this low maintenance crop has never received much attention at the dinner table; shunned by many consumers, championned by few chefs, it has largely been left out of modern recipes.  How did turnips come to describe a disappointing, boring, poorly made movie?  How did they acquire such a bad rap?

Origin

Granted, when you think of a turnip, adjectives such as fade (bland) or sans intérêt (unremarkable) may come to mind.  But the fact is, for centuries, this hardy root vegetable is what many generations ate in the absence of a better alternative, especially in the Northern regions where not much was growing in the winter season.  It kept many people alive during famines, and supported many a poor household when they were running out of its preferred cousin: la pomme de terre (potato,)  a.k.a la patate.  In truth, turnips could be called star crops, considering how many lives they helped save in critical times.  Alas, history decided otherwise; they were remembered in our collective subconscious as the sad symbols of misery, used to describe something of little to no value. We find references of such metaphoric navets as far back as the 13th century - they were then called "naveaulx."  19th-century society began associating the same turnips with uninspired, boring artworks and performances.  With the advent of cinema, it then became the familiar and derogatory label for terrible movies that were terribly made with terrible actors.  And that's how a navet came to symbolize a bad movie.  You will often hear c'est un vrai navet! - it's a real turnip - with vrai adding some emphasis.  Then you'll know that the movie is so bad it has no redeeming features.  Whatsoever.

Examples

C'est un navet hollywoodien!
It's a Hollywood flop!

Ce film n'est pas un chef d'oeuvre, mais il est loin d'être un navet!
This movie isn't a masterpiece but it's far from being a flop!

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