avoir le cœur au bout des doigts

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Novanas, Oct 17, 2011.

  1. Novanas Senior Member

    English AE/Ireland
    Hello, Folks! I've come across the above expression in A l'abri de rien by Olivier Adam, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

    The narrator in this passage is a women who suffers from depression (and isn't taking the medication prescribed for her):

    Je suis rentrée à toute vitesse, j'avais le cœur au bout des doigts. J'ai passé vingt minutes à tout emballer, j'ai ressorti les chutes de papier des derniers anniversaires, j'ai fait boucler les rubans roses et verts sur la lame du ciseau. Je chantais à tue-tête en faisant ça, ma voix résonnait dans la maison silencieuse. Quand j'ai fini j'ai tout disposé au pied du ficus et c'était comme à Noël avec l'arbre, la joie et les jolis paquets.

    I'm not sure what she means here. Perhaps emotionally she's confused. Or perhaps she's full of energy. I'm not sure of this second option, though, because she has lots of housework to do while her kids are at school and her husband is at work, but she doesn't actually do any of it.

    So if anyone can clarify this for me, many thanks.
  2. Manirian Senior Member

    I think it's a reference to "avoir le coeur sur la main" which means "be a generous person" and the fact that she wants to do some work with her hands (some packing here).
    I feel like my fingers wanted to work for making good around me
  3. Novanas Senior Member

    English AE/Ireland
    Thanks for your reply, Manirian. This expression "avoir le cœur sur la main" is another one that I didn't know.
  4. Frenchguy96 New Member

    Français - France (Paris)
    La flemme de le dire en anglais alors ... Ici l'auteur crée une image : le coeur de la personne bat tellement qu'il va jusqu'au bout de ses doigts, dans le même registre que l'expression (plutôt familière) "mon coeur va lâcher. Ici le sens que j'ai compris est que la personne est à bout de souffle.
  5. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    It looks like a plain hands-on description (no? pun intended): her compulsion was to use her fingers; a sudden, intense need to do something with her own hands.
    Reminding indeed of le coeur sur la main, but also with a light hint of le coeur au bord des lèvres, I'd say?
  6. vsop44 Senior Member

    pays d'Evangeline
    français France
    I'm going to side with frenchguy96 on this one .

    I could feel my heartbeat on the tip of my fingers ... pretty straight translation but couldn't come up with anything better !:(
  7. Manirian Senior Member

    I agree with JeanDeSponde for my opinion cause the sentence just after show that she wanted to use her hands. But we can mixed the two ideas "my hands was feverished by/of my impatience"
  8. Novanas Senior Member

    English AE/Ireland
    Many thanks to all of you for your replies. I've been following this discussion with great interest. Of course, as a non-native speaker, I can't settle it myself. But having read your replies, I've gone back to the text, a couple of pages before the passage I quoted and a few paragraphs after, to see if there's anything there that would help to decide the matter.

    I'm not sure that I've found anything, though there is something that I find interesting. In the passage that I quoted, it is in the morning. The woman dropped her two children off at school, and then she went to the "Auchan" to do her shopping. She bought the food her family needed, but she also bought some other things: a toy car for her son, three dolls for her daughter, three Playstation games, and then three shirts and two jumpers for her husband. And she says, "J'ai pas regardé les prix." Now her husband is going to be angry with her. She lost her job a while ago, so he is the only one working, and as a bus driver, he won't be highly-paid. In other words, they can't possibly afford the stuff she bought.

    Then when she gets home, there is the passage I quoted above. After which, she tells us that there was a lot of work to be done around the house, but she doesn't actually do it. And again her husband won't be pleased, because he's already reproached her for not looking after things (although he is trying hard to be patient with her, because she is after all very depressed).

    This is to say that the woman is buying stuff they don't need and doing things around the house that don't really need to be done, while neglecting things that do need to be done. I'm not sure how all this will affect the interpretation of the passage I quoted. I can see merit in all the suggestions that have been made.
  9. Manirian Senior Member

    Then I think "I had palpitations at my fingertips" will do great because we then can consider that it's a sign of stress or of impatience. It's the reader that find her own translation of why she had that. It can understand more than one way like that, don't you think?
  10. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    From what you said about the items she bought, and what she did back at home, the common factor is obvious: she has been buying / doing things for autrui, i.e. it poured from the trop-plein of her heart. Son bon coeur (sur la main) vomissait au bout de ses doigts...
  11. Novanas Senior Member

    English AE/Ireland
    Thanks to everyone for this discussion. I see that this hasn't been an easy one, but there are some very useful suggestions here.
  12. Punky Zoé

    Punky Zoé Senior Member

    France - français

    Cette expression n'est bien sûr pas usuelle, c'est une construction de l'auteur qui évoque, comme dit précédemment, d'autres expressions (avoir le cœur sur la main, connaitre sur les bouts de doigts, jusqu'au bout des doigts = totalement).
    Je comprends qu'après avoir acheté des cadeaux, elle est impatiente de les emballer (travail manuel), mais aussi de passer à l'étape suivante de la générosité, 1 choisir un cadeau, 2 réaliser un bel emballage, 3 offrir), et qu'ainsi c'est son cœur qui se manifeste.
  13. Novanas Senior Member

    English AE/Ireland
    Hello, PZ! From what the other people have said in this discussion, I was thinking along those lines. I think you've summed up well a number of ideas here.
  14. guillaumedemanzac

    guillaumedemanzac Senior Member

    English - Southern England Home Counties
    The English phrase is Her heart was in her mouth - meaning that she was nervous, excited. or heart palpitations gives a similar meaning.
    It doesn't seem to me that it means more than that - her heart was pounding/her heart was beating so fast...
  15. Manyi Senior Member

    Me…I see "all her love for her folks at her fingertips"……a lovely poetic image and definitely not a ready-made one.

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