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There are some occasions when people use the expression "XX ans aux chanterelles" (the most famous one being the "papa smurf" which "a eu 542 ans aux chanterelles"). I was wondering where the expression comes from and it it has any specific meaning.

More precisely, my question are:

  • is it just an embellishment? are there any actual difference between saying "J'ai eu 42 ans" ans "J'ai eu 42 ans aux chanterelles".
  • is the expression prior to the smurfs?
  • does it refer to late summer/early autumn ( mushroom season)
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    I would guess 1) it is more il a eu 80 ans aux chandelles , derivative from (il a soufflé ses) 80 bougies a chandelle is a kind of candle 2) for papa smurf "chanterelle" is a pun on "chandelle"
    – Archemar
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 15:43
  • @Archemar thanks for the answer, "il a eu 80 ans aux chandelles" does not fit my understanding of French grammar ("il a eu 80 chandelles" would be more like it). But perhaps in some Belgian dialect it's closer to a known expression.
    – ARG
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 13:44

2 Answers 2

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TL/DnR:
The expression is a facetious variant of the well-attested "NN ans aux prunes", meaning "NN y/o by mid-September"; only in writing, it also means "NN y/o, sometime before the year is over". It is impossible to decide if Peyo reused s/th he'd heard before, as new variants of thilk phrase crop up regularly in spoken language.

The Wiktionnaire has the entry aux prunes meaning, with humorously peasant overtones, next time plums are collected: late next Summer, about the Equinox. I have only ever heard it in the expression NN ans aux prunes, which appears often in the Canard Enchaîné.

In writing, it is wise to keep to the ruts, so the expression shifts to the general meaning "NN year old, sometime later this year".
In speaking, you can add a dose of creativity w/o perplexing your audience: on the same pattern, Google will find you one or two NN ans {aux cerises | aux châtaignes} and I've occasionally ventured {aux avelines | au muguet | aux pâquerettes} for comical effect.

I suspect aux chanterelles is a gag because, depending on local peculiarities, it could be any date from mid-August to mid-November. Hard to decide if it was of Peyo's invention, though.

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  • +1 for the important precision about variants. The overall structure is indeed "N ans aux <famous (enough) yearly event>" Commented Apr 11 at 13:24
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I found no hit at all for the expression that wasn't related to the smurfs, either on google or ngram, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't an expression before.

To me it refers to the "chanterelles season". It's like saying:

Il a eu 20 ans à la mi-juillet

It implies he doesn't have a precise birthday but he knows roughly at what time of the year he was born. Since they don't have a calendar, they use nature as a time reference.

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    here are few articles with the expression, which are not smurf-related: Le Dauphiné, Sens critique, Télégramme, Vosges matin, etc... Just google "ans aux chanterelles" (with the ").
    – ARG
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 13:42
  • (and thanks for the answer!)
    – ARG
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 13:45
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    @ARG The article from Le Dauphiné is titled 100 ans aux Chanterelles with a capital C, implying a place: a nursing home called Les Chanterelles, not a time of the year. Commented Apr 11 at 10:25

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