If ever I decide to kill two minutes at work surfing Blog Explosion (usually between 17.58 and 18.00 when the countdown moves even more slowly), I invariably spend a few seconds of quality time in the company of 3 Republican wannabe pundits, 2 Democrats, 1 prairie apologist (whatever that means?), 2 knitting bloggers, and an animal lover. I am aware of the fact that this many sites = >2 minutes, but I do not count patience among my qualities.
Last week I stumbled across a blog (which sadly I can no longer find) which helpfully listed a great many figurative phrases and proverbs in the English language referring to cats. This set me off on a train of thought (m’a mis la puce à l’oreille) about similar expressions in French involving animals, and how these are translated into English. Just the sort of thing which keeps me awake at night.
After extensive research (i.e. looking at four or five entries for animals in the Collins/Robert dictionary and brainstorming with Mr Frog, for all the good that did me) I now share the fruit of my labours.
It transpires that French people do indeed shed crocodile tears on occasion, can be as stubborn as mules (personally I know of no-one more stubborn than my partner, so perhaps it should be changed to ‘as stubborn as a frog’?) They are wont to stick their heads in the sand (faire l’autruche – literally, do the ostrich). French females often eat like birds/sparrows (don’t believe any of this nonsense) and an unattractive person may be compared to a toad (être laid comme un crapaud).
However, for a French person, the day that pigs fly will be the day that chicken grow teeth (quand les poules auront des dents). It never rains cats and dogs, but like a pissing cow (pleuvoir comme vache qui pisse). Petite anglaise minus her glasses is as short-sighted as a mole (myope comme une taupe) rather than as blind as a bat. When French people feel a bit chilly they develop chicken skin (chair de poule), which is similar, but not identical to, goose pimples. The Gallic equivalent of having ‘other fish to fry’ is having other cats to whip (d’autres chats à fouetter). I’m not sure what the RSPCA/SPA/Brigitte Bardot would have to say about that kind of behaviour. A French person with a croaky voice has a cat in their throat, as opposed to a frog. (I can’t help feeling that the latter is a good thing and has probably spared me exposure to some rather unsavoury Mr Frog/throat jokes.)
But by far my favourite phrase, because of the lovely image it conjurs in my mind’s eye, is the French expression enculer des mouches. Which can be translated literally as ‘to bugger flies’.
In English we use the rather less colourful expression ‘to split hairs’.