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

Learn idioms about sly foxes, cunning monkeys and more. Pic: Sander Meertins/Getty

Learn idioms about sly foxes, cunning monkeys and more. Pic: Sander Meertins/Getty

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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).

Un loup (entre chien et loup). Pic: AB Photography/GettyUn loup (entre chien et loup). Pic: AB Photography/Getty

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.

Deux singes (malin comme un singe). Pic: Andrew Michael/GettyDeux singes (malin comme un singe). Pic: Andrew Michael/Getty

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

Une autruche (la politique de l'autruche). Pic: Elizabeth Hoffmann/GettyUne autruche (la politique de l'autruche). Pic: Elizabeth Hoffmann/Getty

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.

Running European hares in spring season in the meadowsRunning European hares in spring season in the meadows

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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