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"penny wise, pound foolish" means to be prudent and thrifty with small amounts of money, but wasteful and profligate with large amounts. Is there any equivalent in French?

I have read "économiser un franc et en prodiguer mille" but I would prefer to be able to use it adjectivally, e.g. "Robert est penny wise, pound foolish" or "cette stratégie est penny wise, pound foolish".

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    The French corresponding expression is « faire des économies de bouts de chandelles », if you want to use an adjective you won't have anything as idiomatic. – Laure Sep 20 '17 at 6:02
  • An adjective can be "mesquin", A 2 here: cnrtl.fr/definition/mesquin – lemon Sep 20 '17 at 7:28
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    In my opinion , penny wise, pound foolish has no corresponding idiom nor adjective in french. You should here expect a translation such like tantôt économe, tantôt dépensier ( : does not perfectly fit your expectations). – Charly Sep 20 '17 at 7:52
  • Une alternative "avare au son et large à la farine", ici books.google.fr/…. Le sens est sans doute plus proche mais c'est la première fois que je vois cette expression. – lemon Sep 20 '17 at 9:10
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    I know it's off-topic, but in English the main notion (for me) behind the expression at issue (financial shortsightedness) can be extended beyond finances to include being (overly) careful about unimportant things & careless about important ones. To the extent that this extension also applies in French (& if your context permits), perhaps you could expand your search to include suitable French equivalents of “shortsighted” for a single-word adjective (myope?), or French adjectival versions (if any) of “failing to see … the big picture/beyond the tip of one’s nose/the forest for the trees/etc.” – Papa Poule Sep 20 '17 at 14:57
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As it has been said in the comments, you have a few ways to say that, but none of them are perfect (or it would be too easy):

Faire des économies de bouts de chandelle.

Is by far the most idiomatic expression with this meaning. As you noticed it is also not adjectival but you could just conjugates the verb and... tadaa!

Cette stratégie fait des économies de bouts de chandelle.

Note that this expression is highly tight to financial issues, or at least issues related to a measurable quantity. You can't say that someone "fait des économies de chandelle" because he is shortsighted.

At the opposite the word mesquin is closer to the general notion of being shortsighted and have a calculated generosity.

Other expressions (like "avare au son et large à la farine" or "économiser un sou et en prodiguer mille") seem to exist but are very rare. I have never seen those ones before today.

  • You can use : "Tuer la poule aux oeufs d'or", literally take advantage of a short-term thing and sacrifice its long-term investment. but the translation here is partial. – Loïc Di Benedetto Sep 20 '17 at 15:41
  • @LoïcDiBenedetto: that's very far from the original question. Btw "literally" means the opposite of what you use it for. – Anne Aunyme Sep 21 '17 at 8:10
  • Vous avez raison, c'en est presque un non-sens. Néanmoins vous réduisez le sens de "Penny wise, pound foolish" en ne prenant en compte que la première partie de l'expression. Cette dernière comporte cette aspect "flambeur" dans sa deuxième partie. A mon sens une stratégie "penny wise, pound foolish" ne peut pas réduire à son simple aspect radin,petit ou mesquin. Elle dénote d'une vision court-termiste et une incapacité à gérer des gains futurs. – Loïc Di Benedetto Sep 21 '17 at 18:04
  • J'ai expliqué ce que signifiait "mesquin", mot qui en effet ne décrit pas vraiment l'aspect flambeur. C'est pour cela que ma réponse ne se limite pas à ce mot. – Anne Aunyme Sep 22 '17 at 9:15
  • Certes, mais votre réponse principale "Faire des économies de bout de chandelle" signifie être économe sur des choses insignifiantes. Votre dernière phrase "Economiser un sou et en prodiguer mille" me semble la plus proche de la question, mais est en effet pas utilisé. Je pense qu'il n'y a pas de traduction complète, élégante et usitée. Je n'ai donc pas proposé de solution mais souligné l'existence d'une autre expression pouvant compléter la votre. – Loïc Di Benedetto Sep 22 '17 at 11:03

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