Consider the following sentence (discussing someone's chances to get into parliament or something like that):

Il faudrait un bouleversement pour qu'il ait une chance, si je peux appeler ça une chance : avec les bonnes Chambres que nous avons, il peut bien y mettre le nom de la violette.

The first part is more or less clear, although I suspect there is some wordplay here; it's hard to be sure without understanding the second part. I would say it means something like "It would take an earthquake for him to have a chance, if I can call that a chance" where possibly the second chance actually means "luck" (which is likely if the meaning of the second half is to say this wouldn't be such a great thing anyway).

I am completely drawing a blank on the second half, though. Literally it seems to mean something like "considering the good house of parliament we have, he might as well put his name of violets" or "he can 'very well try' to put his name in the purple". So maybe it means that considering the current form of government (which is ironically called 'good') getting in is as worthless as throwing your name at flowers (a weird expression but no implausible), and maybe it means that considering the good shape of the government he wouldn't have a chance even if there were a (metaphorical) earthquake and he might as well just throw out his name altogether (or something like that).


Nothing is available in the various dictionaries in the way of an explanation; a very significant source however (poem refered to by the link below) shows that this expression is an idiom.

In view of the following poem and the symbolism attached to this flower "y mettre le nom de la violette" could mean "to aspire", 'to hanker after something".

poem: https://polyedros.blogspot.com/2010/12/ii-faut-que-mon-coeur-y-mette-le-nom-de.html

Language associated with flowers (symbolism): http://boitedependore.com/avril/langagefleur.htm

  • tristesse
  • l'idée de perdre votre amour me chagrine.
  • exprime le désir de votre amour à la personne aimée.
  • exprime l'espoir d'une réponse et met en avant la sincérité de la requête.
  • expression d'un amour tendre. méfiance. Amour fervent.
  • peine de cœur, vous ne savez pas ce que je souffre. Tristesse.
  • tristesse nostalgique.
  • Modestie, pudeur ou Amour caché

Pour exprimer son amour : Pour commencer, envoyez à la personne aimée un bouquet de violettes qui lui dira au creux de l'oreille : "Il paraît que quelqu'un est amoureux de toi, mais… chut… c'est un secret…".


La violette est l'emblème de la modestie.


Il faudrait un bouleversement pour qu'il ait une chance, si je peux appeler ça une chance : avec les bonnes Chambres que nous avons, il peut bien y mettre le nom de la violette.

translation : It would take an earthquake for him to have a chance, if you'd call that a chance: given the solid representation we have he may well go on hankering after it.

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  • That makes a lot of sense, thank you. The book was written in WWII, by the way, so it makes sense it'd use some old idioms. – Salamano Aug 4 '19 at 10:41

Without further information about the context — are we talking about a bill, some kind of draft legislation that's supposed to pass through Parliament? — I can only speculate.

violette in French is sometimes associated with bashfulness as it is in English. Parliament is perhaps referred to here as being made up of a bunch of shrinking violets.

Another possibility is, as hinted by LPH, that y mettre le nom de la violette simply means to forget about it. The only other example of this expression, that was completely unknown to me, is taken from La Petite Tunisie, a paper that was in print between 1927 and 1937 :

  • La menace marocaine se précise. Les journaux de Rabat ont relaté que le total des ventes de phosphates du Maroc s'est élevé pendant l'année 1929 à 1.608.150 tonnes, soit un excédent de 271.071 tonnes sur l'année 1928. A ce train-là, le tonnage est bien prêt d'atteindre les 2.000.000 de tonnes, et quand le nouveau gisement, dont le port d'embarquement doit être Saffi, sera mis en exploitation, nous pourrons mettre le nom de la violette sur nos exploitations algéro-tunisiennes si un contingentement ne vient enfin réglementer la production et la vente des phosphates en Afrique du Nord.
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  • Thank you. Regarding the context: there isn't really; just that the speaker is talking about someone who's trying to become a minister. The book from which this is taken was written during WWII, if it helps.\ – Salamano Aug 4 '19 at 10:33
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    @Salamano. Thanks! It does help, Aragon, the poet whose poem is quoted, was born in 1897, la Petite Tunisie goes back to the 1920s and 30s, your sentence mentions "les Chambres" which is what the the upper and the lower chambers of the French parliament were called under the Third Republic, the regime that lasted until 1940. I think the expression is really dated now and I'm not sure it would be understood. Out of curiosity, what's the book from which it was taken? – user21018 Aug 4 '19 at 16:40
  • The poem is by Aragon?? How interesting! The book from which I quoted the passage is also by Araon! (It's Aurélien.) – Salamano Aug 5 '19 at 11:09

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