14 French expressions involving animals

Animals have always been an inspiration for human communication. French is of course no exception. Below are some common expressions and phrases. It’s interesting to compare similar expressions in different languages. Here are some examples:


Un froid de canard: litterally duck cold. Yeah, doesn’t make much sense at first glance… It just means very cold.

Un temps de chien: lit. dog’s weather. I’m not sure whether dogs love bad weather but that’s what it means.

Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter: while you’re busy frying bigger fish, we’re busy whipping (fouetter) other cats. Not PC but the expression wasn’t my idea, don’t whip the messenger. We might eat frogs legs(well some people do!)  but we don’t whip cats. It’s actually a popular phrase.

Comme un poisson dans l’eau: you have like a fish out of water, we have like a fish IN water, meaning being comfortable in a particular situation.

Un chat dans la gorge: the frog in your throat is a cat in ours.

Quand les poules auront des dents: when your pigs fly, our hens (poules) will have teeth (dents).

Avoir la chair de poule: your goose bumps are our hen’s flesh.

Une poule mouillée: a wet hen, means a person who is easily afraid, like your chicken.

Les chiens ne font pas des chats: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in English. In French, we say dogs don’t have kittens.

Avoir des yeux de merlan frit: after a rough night or if you have a cold, your eyes (yeux) might look like those of a merlan (type of white fish) frit (fried). Go ahead, picture it, it’s pretty accurate.

Avoir une force de cheval: to be strong like a horse (pretty boring).

Une queue de cheval: your poney tail  gets an upgrade and  becomes a horse tail. Note that pig tails lose their animal reference, being referred simply as couettes (f).

Etre tetu comme un âne: being stubborn like a donkey.

Appeler un chat un chat: you call a spade a spade, fair enough, then we will call a cat a… cat.

Being able to use the correct expression in the right context is a difficult thing to do but it puts the speaker in a higher category. Communicating in a foreign language is not just about translating words but also trying to seize and use the subleties of how meaning is conveyed beyond calling a spade a cat spade. Go ahead, try it, don’t be a poule mouillée!


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