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!





Embed from Getty Images


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.





  1. Hence the saying, “cat got your tongue” I guess , this is cool.

  2. Cat got your tongue is the familiar expression I know here Evelyne, but that means something very different – interesting to see the difference. ‘Throw in the towel’ or ‘raise the white flag’ are probably the most similar English expressions – though I’m not sure if they’re English or English American!

    • Here is the anwer to the comment above yours, Andrea. I agree that ‘Throw in the towel” would be the best equivalent. Yes, we also use it here in the States. I should have thought of it. Thank you!

  3. I like that expression but I wouldn’t want to give my cats any more knowledge. They seem to know too much as it is. Happy Easter. Enjoy your first day off.

  4. Behind the Story says:

    Another post that causes me to ponder our own expressions. So why do we say, “The cat’s got your tongue.” Maybe because cats are so private. If a cat had your tongue, he wouldn’t tell.

  5. This is one of my favorite French Expressions that I have learned so far in my studies. I often “donne ma langue au chat” when doing French grammar lessons 😉 Yes, it’s true that “the cat’s got your tongue” is very different in English. The equivalent to “donner sa langue au chat” when I was growing up was not very interesting, we just said “I give.”

  6. I got quite a visual from this one. Meow!

  7. We all know that dogs are blabbermouths and shout all your secrets to every other dog in the neighborhood. That’s why they bark so much!

  8. Great post! Glad I’m a cat owner versus a dog after reading your post & the comments 🙂 A to Z visitor

  9. I love both animals but cats are cats, right? Thanks for your visit, Stephanie. I’ll look into your challenge and see what you are up to!

%d bloggers like this: