We were having a conversation in German about Japanese Geishas, and I said:

Ihr zieht alle Register, um die Aufmerksamkeit der Leute zu gewinnen, aber alle interessieren sich nur für die Geishas, stimmt's? Machen wir uns doch nichts vor – ihr habt kein einziges Kunststück im Repertoire, das mit ihren Darbietungen konkurrieren könnte ...

I was wondering how I'd express the same idea in French. This is where I'd have said:

≈ Vous faites des pieds et des mains pour attirer l’attention des gens, mais ils n’en ont tous que pour les geishas, c'est ça ? On doit se faire une raison, vous ne connaissez pas de tours suffisamment captivants pour rivaliser avec leurs performances...

{rather than}:

Vous sortez le grand jeu pour attirer l’attention des gens, mais ...

{or}: Vous avez sorti le grand jeu pour attirer l’attention des gens, mais ...

The expression "alle Register ziehen" literally means "pull all (musical) registers" and figuratively "pull out all the stops".

Although "faire des pieds et des mains (pour ...)" and "sortir le grand jeu (pour ...)" are indeed synonymous -- with the meaning of "se démener dans un but précis", I get the impression that they are nuanced and differ in usage. Here, the use of "sortir le grand jeu" sounds odd to me:

  • "Sortir le grand jeu" seems to have a connotation of going so far as to do something impressive or extreme as a desperate measure or a last resort, and the efforts involved are only temporary or a one-off. As such, it is often coupled with Passé Composé.

  • "faire des pieds et des mains", on the other hand, seems to entail more continuous efforts, which makes it more suitable for use in this context.

Several expressions, including "Sortir le grand jeu", are suggested in dictionaries as equivalents of "alle Register ziehen" or "pull out all the stops", but curiously, "faire des pieds et des mains" is nowhere to be seen.


1 Answer 1


There is a difference between the 2 phrases, they are not really synonyms:

Faire des pieds et des mains means to make a lot of efforts (not necessarily with material means - cf. infra) to have a favor or a priviledge. It can have a slightly negative connotation, as it may imply the person who does that goes a bit over the line and can become an annoyance to the persons they interact with.

Ex: Cette maman a fait des pieds et des mains pour que son fils ait le premier rôle dans le spectacle de fin d'année: elle a harcelé l'instituteur de coups de fil, elle a fait répéter son fils tous les soirs, elle a même demandé un rendez-vous avec le directeur pour le persuader que son fils était le meilleur choix !

Sortir le grand jeu means to use a lot of material means in order to impress someone (there can be some other objectives as well, but there is this idea of deploying impressive means).

Ex: il a sorti le grand jeu pour sa demande en mariage: il a invité sa fiancée à Venise avec vol en première classe, hôtel 5 étoiles et dîner romantique dans un des meilleurs restaurants de la ville.

Taking again this example for the comparison, it would be a bit awkward to say someone has "fait des pieds et des mains" for a marriage proposal: it would mean the groom-to-be harrassed his fiancée and repeatedly asked her to marry him until she finally gave in.

  • Great. 1) I used "faire des pieds et des mains" in this context to express the idea of "going all out to get their attention, trying this and that and everything in between". Is it better than "sortir le grand jeu"? 2) So, depending on what I have in mind, can the two expressions both be used here? Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 7:58

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