From cunning monkeys to ostrich policies: 8 fun animal-related French idioms to use
PUBLISHED: 17:09 29 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:29 29 September 2020
We’ve put together a menagerie of animal expressions to boost your French to the next level
Entre chien et loup
Literal: Between a dog and a wolf
Idiomatic: At twilight
When it gets to that time of the day when you can’t tell the difference between a dog and a wolf, you’ve made it: you’re entre chien and loup, or at dusk. This 13th-century saying refers to the point in the day when the daytime (represented by a dog) gives way to the scary darkness and shadows of night (in this case, a wolf).
Être bavard comme une pie
To be as chatty as a magpie
The loudmouths of the bird world have got their own idiom in France. Remember, you can also just use the French word for magpie, une pie, to dub someone a chatterbox.
Être malin comme un singe
To be as clever/cunning as a monkey
Did you know that le malin means the devil in French? As a consequence, this phrase (used to refer to people who can easily solve problems) used to have negative connotations in medieval France, when it was first used – monkeys were seen as evil creatures of the devil.
Avoir le cafard
Literal: To have the cockroach
Idiomatic: To feel down in the dumps
All credit to 19th-century poetry extraordinaire Charles Baudelaire for this catchy phrase, found in Les Fleurs du Mal.
Appliquer la politique de l’autruche
Literal: To apply the policy of an ostrich
Idiomatic: To bury your head in the sand
Just like its English equivalent, this expression means to ignore the danger or unpleasantness of your situation. Take care not to confuse autruche with Autriche (Austria)!
Avancer comme un escargot
To go at a snail’s pace
Snails aren’t just a garlicky delicacy in France – they’re also idiom fodder. This phrase is perfect for describing the traffic in Paris.
Courir plusieurs lièvres à la fois
Literal: To chase several hares at once
Idiomatic: To do a few things at once at the risk of messing them all up
Hailing from France’s 17th-century hunting scene, this expression is for people juggling numerous tasks with the risk of failing them all.
Être rusé comme un renard
To be as cunning as a fox
It’s not just monkeys who are cunning in France, it seems! Ever since the medieval fable of Roman of Reynart, featuring a wily fox, a renard has been a byword for slyness.
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