petite anglaise

January 24, 2005

superfly guy

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:21 pm

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’.


  1. In Dutch the equivalent is to “fuck ants” (mieren neuken). Thankfully I am not aware of any such impolite expressions involving my species.

    Comment by Chameleon — January 24, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

  2. :razz:
    I really enjoy your blog and it (along with other expat blogs) has finally inspired me to start my own. So thanks!
    Petite néo-zélandaise en France

    Comment by Antipo Deesse — January 24, 2005 @ 1:48 pm

  3. Chameleon – what a short comment. You are losing your touch!

    Antipo Déesse – Love the name!

    Comment by petite — January 24, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

  4. My favourites are poser un lapin, donner sa langue au chat and Revenons à nos moutons.

    A common one in Italian is In bocca al lupo!(lit. in the wolf’s mouth),meaning “good luck!”. The response is “Crepi il lupo!”, “May the wolf die!”

    Comment by Ria — January 24, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

  5. If you want to find out which of our proverbs and idioms can be translated into French, I would recommend the following
    books. I came across them when I was looking for things to help me with my learning of French. Each book contains 101 proverbs/idioms and are quite useful to expand ones colloquial knowledge.Most you will probably already know but I find them useful :)

    Comment by moomin — January 24, 2005 @ 3:05 pm

  6. I once overheard an Australian reply to the waiter in a Lebanese restaurant in London who politely asked if he would like to eat, “Well mate, I’m not here to fuck spiders”

    Comment by Parkin Pig — January 24, 2005 @ 3:24 pm

  7. Sadly in france pig’s will never fly … but in Italy they’re waiting for donkey’s to fly (quando voleranno gli asini). And in Italy they don’t have other fish to fry but cat’s to skin (avere altre gatte da pelare). Not quite as tasty.

    Comment by l'oiseau — January 24, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

  8. P.S. Nearly forgot another delightful earthy Australian expression “Why don’t you go stick your head up a dead bear’s bum”.

    Comment by Parkin Pig — January 24, 2005 @ 3:46 pm

  9. You say “pissed as a newt”, I say “bourré comme le trou du cul d’un ane” (stuffed as a donkey asshole). Yep!

    Comment by Chninkel — January 24, 2005 @ 3:58 pm

  10. In Australia I learned to delicately express my thirst by saying “I’m as dry as a dead dingo’s donga, mate”.

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — January 24, 2005 @ 4:46 pm

  11. PD comme un phoque (why?) (queer as a seal)
    Sentir le bouc/le fauve (smell like a billygoat/ wild animal)
    Malin comme un singe ( as clever as a monkey) are just some other animal expressions that spring tpo mind when I should be earning a living instead.

    Just voted. You’re streets (ginnels) ahead.

    Comment by Parkin Pig — January 24, 2005 @ 5:15 pm

  12. I suspect Ms Bardot won’t be saying much. Seems her opinions come at a cost.

    As for ‘splitting hairs,’ well, we english speaking prudes probably appreciate our grandmeres remaining coy.

    Comment by Sigmund Carl and Alfred — January 24, 2005 @ 6:12 pm

  13. ‘a proverb and one expression’

    Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide – Boiled cats fear cold water (once bitten, twice shy)

    être comme un chien dans un jeu de quilles – to be like a dog among bowling pins (very hard to translate, to be somewhere where you’re absolutely not necessary, and make a mess…closest relation could be like an elephant in a china shop)

    Comment by nardac — January 24, 2005 @ 7:03 pm

  14. L’équivalent plus académique de “splitting hair” est “couper les cheveux en 4”. C’est moins grossier (mais moins amusant) que “Enculer les mouches” !

    Comment by Silence — January 24, 2005 @ 7:27 pm

  15. Hi there,

    It’s Andrew from 3:AM. Gothamist are launching a Parisian blog which I’m editing, and it would be great if you contributed to it now and again. Please email me if you’re interested. Cheers,


    Comment by Andrew Gallix — January 24, 2005 @ 7:38 pm

  16. “Laid comme un crapaud” is probably slightly less abusive than “c’est un vrai thon”/ she’s a tuna.. used to describe an unattractive girl :oops:

    Little Miss Frog in NZ => hi Petite NZ in France :grin:

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — January 24, 2005 @ 11:33 pm

  17. “Chicken skin” is also an expression in Spanish, (piel de pollo). Imagine my face when a boyfriend once told me (in English) that I had chicken skin. I was (and still am) just barely conversational in Sp. and so had never encountered that expression. Your blog is great! I’ve been reading for some time now…

    Comment by Annika — January 25, 2005 @ 12:44 am

  18. Germans don’t get a bee in their bonnet about something, but mice in their head! (Mäuse im Kopfe).

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — January 25, 2005 @ 10:26 am

  19. The book Merde Encore! has a whole section on animal-related French idioms. Recommended.

    Comment by Peter — January 27, 2005 @ 1:00 am

  20. Fun article! I enjoy playing these language games, too. I’m an American living in Austria, so I’m usually translating things into German, but it’s fun to compare idioms from different languages.

    Comment by kurt — January 28, 2005 @ 12:35 pm

  21. Love this post! Thanks :)

    Comment by Hippie — January 30, 2005 @ 8:17 pm

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