Traditions - General Info

Feathered animals in French colloquialisms

This page was updated on: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at: 11:03 am

Common colloquial expressions related to Feathered Animals

Many French colloquialisms make reference to animals, and in particular to feathered animals.

It is quite amusing to see how French and English expressions are quite similar, however, use different animals!

1- You will remember this expression we talked about in the article about colloquial expressions on weather, where Brits have goosebumps, but French ont la chair de poule.

2- French also talk about tuer la poule aux oeufs d’or (kill the hen that lays the golden eggs) when the English kill the goose that lays the golden egg!

And we seem to prefer chickens to pigs on the continent.

3- If you talk to French about an event that has little probability of occurring, they’ll assure you that cela se réalisera quand les poules auront des dents (this will happen when hens grow teeth), which Brits will translate as when pigs fly.

4- When they are happy and live the high life, the French say that ils se sentent comme un coq en pâte (like a rooster in pastry), in other words they feel like pigs in clover!

This odd expression dates back to the 17th century.

Roosters used to be very valuable; peasants therefore took a lot of care when taking them to the market, as they obviously wanted to preserve their market value.

The recipe for pâté en croûte (with chicken meat) became very fashionable in the 17th century.

The whole rooster was wrapped in puff pastry, then cooked very slowly for hours.

The gentle heat generated inside the pastry was said to be very cozy and comfortable, and gave birth to the expression; but I doubt the poor rooster shared this opinion!

Hens and roosters are not the only feathered animals that inspired some of our most common colloquialisms.

5- Linnets are small birds with tiny heads, so une tête de linotte (linnet brain) is of course a bird brain, a empty headed person, an airhead or a scatterbrain.

6- If you purchase an item qui vaut de la roupie de sansonnet (worth starling’s snot), don’t worry it has nothing to do with snot, it just means that you purchased something worthless, something not worth a hill of beans.

The origin of this expression is obscure, but it seems that it came out in the 17th century (once more!), when the word roupie was a common word meaning snot!

As for the poor starling, it has nothing to do with him.

Indeed, it seems that the expression evolved from its homophone sans son nez (without its nose).

7- So be careful, if you buy an item qui vaut de la roupie de sansonnet, everyone will think that on vous a pris pour un pigeon (you were taken for a pigeon) you were wrapped in fur, or that vous êtes le dindon de la farce (the stuffed turkey) you are the butt of the joke.

8- However, ladies, if you are lucky in love, vous trouverez l’oiseau rare - you'll find the rare bird, the man in a million.

9- But don't always judge a book by its cover, as une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps - one swallow does not make a summer (yes I know, we are in spring when the Brits are already in summer!)

Finally here are some expressions related to the beak of our feathered animals.

10-So if vous tombez sur un bec (if you fall on a beak) you hit a snag, when vous restez le bec dans l’eau (you stay with your beak in the water) you're left high and dry, and if you have the last word, vous clouez le bec de votre interlocuteur (you nail you interlocutor’s beak), in other words you shut him/her up or shut his/her trap!

More colloquial expressions to come, please visit us back soon!

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