I encountered this while reading Astérix. The conversation goes as follows:

Roman Commander : Après quoi, nous nous débarrasserons de ces deux gaulois ! Ce sera pour eux une leçon !

Roman Lieutenant : Poil au menton !

While I know the literal meaning is along the lines of hair on your chin, what does that mean in this context?

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In French, it is a very common (and no so funny) joke to said "poil au {part of the body}" where the part of the body rhymes with the last sentence.

- Je vais aller manger.

- Poil au nez !

- Il s'agit d'un lapin.

- Poil aux mains !

- Ce n'est pas tout à fait pareil.

- Poil aux oreilles

Well, I think you get it...

  • 1
    Is this for real? That's....so stupid....I'm laughing....because it's so stupid!! – Aerovistae Mar 10 '17 at 8:33
  • @Aerovistae Yep, that's stupid, ringard. That's probably why it still exists ;P – Mistalis Mar 10 '17 at 8:34
  • In the south of France you can't use oreilles here, as it doesn't rhyme perfectly. It has to be orteils – Stéphane Gimenez Mar 10 '17 at 13:20
  • There are also some very dirty ones. – Lambie Mar 11 '17 at 1:22
  • @StéphaneGimenez An ending [ə] is often added to pareil in Southern French accents so rhyming wouldn't be an issue. – jlliagre Mar 11 '17 at 2:25

The first references of this jocular alliteration are from the beginning of last century:

http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/bhvf/poil%20au

1903 - «Rien qu'au premier clin d'oeil tu vas voir que les trucs qu'on a vu traîner (poil au nez) tantôt (poil au dos), n'y sont plus (poil au ... ferblantier).» Willy, La Môme Picrate, 137 (A. Michel) - P.E.
1904 - «Ah! en vérité, ville fortunée qui, aux heures les plus critiques, peut conserver son impertinence charmante... - Poil aux tantes ! interpola à demi-voix le pétrousquin chauve.» Willy, En bombe, 34 (Nilsson) - P.E.

It is the same kind of effect that existed in the fifties:

See you later, alligator

  • 1
    The first of your examples shows a particular form of this joke, which consists of doing it a few times in a row with body parts, to train the listener to expect "poil au <body part>", then add something that ends in "u" or "ite" as a way to lead the listener into thinking that a crass word is about to be used – qoba Mar 10 '17 at 15:58

It means about nothing special, but it rhymes with leçon, and it is funny (at least in the minds of the soldiers) precisely because it has nothing to do with what the commander says ... I think in that episode of Astérix, the soldiers are just having too much fun trying to rhyme with everything their commanders say.

  • I didn't even notice they're doing this. I have to go re-read now. This is the first book. – Aerovistae Mar 10 '17 at 5:35
  • Let me know if I remembered correctly. I'm not sure, but Astérix and Obélix might have started that rhyming thing, and it's spreading among the soldiers, and it results in chaos at the end. Something like that? – Frank Mar 10 '17 at 5:49
  • I think that's a different one of the comics! I'll tell you when I come across that one, I'm gradually reading all of them. – Aerovistae Mar 10 '17 at 6:26

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