To Give One’s Tongue to the Cat or a Month of French Idioms from A to Z

In the series A Month of French Idioms From A to Z, here is letter D!





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This is a French expression from the 19th century, which supposedly comes from an older one. Originally one gave the tongue to the dog and not to the cat, based on the common custom to give leftover food and the less tasty morsels to the family dog.

Why did it switch from the dog to the cat?

In France (and many other countries) the cat was seen as an animal able to keep secrets, which could by extension keep the tongue given to him.

On the other hand, to give your tongue to the cat symbolizes failure. If you give your tongue to the cat you give the animal a lot of power, increasing the notion that the cat has more knowledge and wisdom than you.

I won’t contradict this: I love cats and find them very wise.

This French expression is used commonly when people can’t find the solution to a guessing game and also to a complex problem.

As a kid I often gave my tongue to the cat when playing math games with friends!


See you on Monday with letter E.

Meanwhile if you celebrate Easter, enjoy this special day. In France the bells coming all the way from Roma bring chocolate eggs and other goodies to the French children. Ici aux USA c’est un lapin qui remplit les enfants de joie le matin de Pâques.




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