Bonjour! This week, we will be exploring a few animal-related French idioms. Why animals, you ask? Well, why not!? If you’re a newcomer and are staring at the article title thinking, “What in the world are these ‘Speakwords’ you keep talking about?”, then you should visit the very first article in the series to find out.
Second only to English, French is among the top languages for the number of countries where it has official status. It is also the only language, besides English, to be taught in every country worldwide. In fact, there are estimated to be around 2 million French teachers with 100 million French students. Furthermore, there are currently over 220 million French speakers worldwide, including 72 million so-called partial French speakers. Oh mon! That’s a lot of people.
With so many French speakers around the world, you should probably be brushing up on a few of these French idioms. If nothing else, you’re sure to impress them with your out-of-the-box knowledge. Which entry-level French speaker would know even half of these?
Also known as, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play!” Although apparently, the French mice enjoy dancing over playing.
Thankfully, this idiom has nothing to do with actually breaking the legs of a dug (thaaaank goodness!). Rather, this idiom is used in conjunction with the English saying, “nothing to write home about”.
This is the French equivalent of the famous English saying, “Speak of the devil and he shall appear!”
Chickens With Teeth
In other words, “when pigs fly”. As with the English expression, this idiom is used to describe a situation that would never in a million years happen.
Cows That Can Talk
The origins of this expression is unclear, however, it has been used in the French language since 1640! Some say it comes from the fact that during medieval times, both “vache” and “espagnole” were pejorative terms. Combine both, and it makes quite the insult.
Ratta Tat Tat
Pardon my French! (Pun most definitely intended). The least ‘classy’ from this collection of French Idioms, but the most to-the-point, “se faire chier comme un rat mort” is used when you are (quite literally in the case of the protagonist in this story) “bored to death”.
Though it may appear similar at first, this has nothing to do with the English idiom, “To be as mad as a wet hen”. Instead, it is used when describing a person who is afraid of literally everything around them. A potential English equivalent could be “to be faint-hearted”.
There are a number of English language equivalents to this idiom. For example, “Many a mickle makes a muckle” and “Slow and steady wins the race”. It is quite likely the cutest one from this list of French idioms!
Okay so, this isn’t a photo of a cockroach. But, you get the point, right? This particular idiom isn’t as musical as “to have the blues”, but it has a similar, more visually stimulating meaning. French poet, Charles Baudelaire, invented this creative masterpiece while writing Les Fleurs du mal (or, “The Flowers of Evil”). Apparently, the existing words – mélancolie (melancholy) and tristesse (sadness) just weren’t enough. Thus, Baudelaire turned cafard (cockroach) into a synonym for “sadness!”