Zoology With A French Accent

Came across an article with some amusing examples of how the French language has integrated animals into its colloquial expressions, which when translated are interesting, funny, or occasionally gross.

Avoir la chair de poule = To have hen’s flesh.

This is goose bumps for us, making the two expressions quite similar. I once famously screwed up this saying by telling Charlotte I had la peau de poulet, or “chicken skin”. Her laughter was heard throughout our apartment building.

Avoir une taille de guêpe = To have the waist of a wasp

This implies a woman’s small or thin frame, as compared to the insect’s thorax. I guess if you look like a bug here, you’re looking good. An English equivalent? I’ve heard American women being called “W.A.S.P.-y”, but I don’t think flattery is the goal there.

Être excité comme une puce = To be excited as a flea

Being a rather jumpy creature this one seems logical. Just like our flea markets, Parisians say les puces to refer to their second-hand commerce on the weekends. But surprisingly it’s also common to call a loved one ma puce, or “my flea”. In fact being the language of love, French is awfully liberal with its cutsie nicknames, where an adored spouse can be called ma biche (my doe), mon canard (my duck), or my personal favorite: mon chou (my cabbage). Oh yeah…sweet, sexy, romantic cabbage.

Quand les poules auront des dents = When hens have teeth

Again with the hens, this is their version of “When pigs fly”. I can’t help wondering what the world would look like if these two anomalies kicked in at the same time. Chickens eating bacon comes to mind.

Payer en monnaie de singe = To pay with monkey money

Tough to think of an English equivalent here, probably because this expression is tied to something specific in Parisian history. In the 1200’s if you were a street performer and wanted to cross the Petit Pont (the bridge leading to the place of Notre Dame), you’d have to pay a toll — unless you were an entertainer with monkeys, in which case there was no charge. From then on the idea of paying with something other than real currency became known as paying with monkey money.

Pleurer des larmes de crocodile = To cry crocodile tears

Finally, an expression both cultures use. According to this article the idea is based on an Egyptian legend that crocs would employ fake crying and moaning to attract prey. Since then it’s shown up in many languages including Latin and Greek, to symbolize fake tears used to get attention.

Pleuvoir comme vache qui pisse = To rain like a pissing cow

Not only is this the best one of the article but I feel a bit of extra connection to it, as one of my first blog posts ever was about how often cows are used in the French language. This new addition serves as further proof that livestock was a major part of life here. Incidentally, now that you have the translation if you take another look at the article’s picture it might take on a slightly different (and gross) meaning. I tell ya, there isn’t an umbrella waterproof enough for that kind of jazz.


  • Hey Corey I don’t even want to thing about the cow one! And no, her umbrella wouldn’t quite cover it. I’m confused on why she would be happy at a time like that! Incidentally, have you ever heard of a French phrase corresponding to our “when pigs fly”? I haven’t yet, but my husband’s aunt says it all the time and I would like to give it to her in French!

    • I don’t think the flying pigs has a literal translation here, but the chicken-with-teeth one from this article seems to be the closest I’ve found so far. Give it a try on her and see if it sticks!

  • This post made me laugh so hard! And I resolve to run around town screaming “When hens have teeth!”, of course only when appropriate and I will find an appropriate moment, by god.

    My boyfriend uses the term “That really chaps my ass!” (meaning something annoys him) and alot of people haven’t heard it before. Now he and I can both get strange looks from people…things to do together as a couple.

    • Thanks Dena, glad you like it. I’m a fan of the ass-chapping expression; they have it up in Maine where it can get super cold and your ass (if overexposed) could definitely get chapped. Maybe that’s why Floridians haven’t heard it before?

      • It’s quite possibly a New England thing! He did spend two years in New Haven, CT, working at Yale. I’ve even caught him once or twice saying “that’s wicked (insert adjective here)”. I shuddered.

  • Merveilleux, Corey! Not only have you started my day with a laugh, but you’ve also taught me some wonderful phrases. (Although I’ll probably have to be pretty patient in waiting for an occasion to use “payer en monnaie de singe …”)

    Thanks for another wonderful read!

    • I don’t see what’s so hard about carrying a monkey around wherever you go Heather. I mean, you either want this or not.

      • OK, OK! I’ll carry the monkey!!! But please don’t make me stand behind la vache. (As beautiful as Paris may be in the rain, I do have my limits.)

        BTW: Count your blessings that you’re in la ville lumière. Aujourd’hui à Minneapolis il fait un temps de chien. Those matches are looking more and more tempting …

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s