Mettre de l’eau dans son vin

Mettre de l'eau dans son vin
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Moderate French Expression

Meaning to water down, tone it down, be more moderate
Literally to put water in one’s wine
Register normal
Pronunciation French sound files [meh tr(eu) deu lo da(n) so(n) veh(n)]
IPA   [mɛ tʁə də lo dã sɔ̃ vɛ̃]    

Usage notes: The French expression mettre de l’eau dans son vin can be used literally and figuratively.

The literal meaning dates back to 1576 (according to Le Petit Robert), and the tradition it refers to is even older. In Ancient Greece and Rome, adding water to wine was all but required; not doing so was considered low class. Today, parents may add water to wine so that their children can have a taste, and some vintners do it in order to enhance the flavor.*

The two figurative meanings are somewhat related: mettre de l’eau dans son vin can mean "to tone it down" (to be less antagonistic, speak with less animosity) as well as "to be more moderate" (to compromise, make concessions, be reasonable).

Par exemple…

Évidemment, crier ne marche pas. Il doit mettre de l’eau dans son vin et réessayer.   Obviously, yelling isn’t working. He needs to tone it down and try again.
Quand même tu exagères ! Mets de l’eau dans ton vin, s’il te plaît.   Really, you’re going too far! Be reasonable, please.

 Related lessons

* LaWineClub: "Water with your wine?”

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Mettre de l'eau dans son vin

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