Drown the Fish or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z


It’s always fun for me when expressions in French and English have something in common. Like today.






I’ve heard and said this French idiom countless times without even thinking twice that the metaphor is strange. Isn’t it impossible to drown a fish?


The English version is using a duck and not a fish as a metaphor. I figure that fish and duck swimming sometimes through murky waters can suggest confusion.

Noyer le poisson or duck the issue pursue the same goal anyway: Creating confusion to avoid facing a problem or having a frank discussion about a delicate topic. Noyer (To Drown) is in fact one of the French verbs that’s used when too many details are provided to describe a situation, often when people are embarrassed to talk about this specific situation or need to hide an element they don’t want to share.

Bamboozle is the English verb that comes to my mind when I think of confusion. I discovered the meaning of this strange-sounding verb through Bamboozled, a picture book that my oldest daughter adored when she was a preschooler. Her siblings have loved it as much.

Would Bamboozle be a good equivalent to the French verb Noyer, in its figurative meaning?


P.S. The fish on the photo was caught (and released) by my son a couple of summers ago in Maine.


See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge




  1. The word duck in the case of duck the issue means dodge, like you would duck to avoid the ball or dodge the bullet. More of avoiding confrontation, and nothing to do with the duck animal. In the case of ducking, you really can duck the problem, but you truly can’t drown the fish. Obviously the French have the better idiom!

    • Thanks, Joey. Yes, I knew about this other meaning of To Duck. I think it’s interesting that here we use the duck for several expressions. In French we have more with the hen that the duck. Go figure!

  2. Sounds like talking your way out of something, or sweet-talking.What car salesmen do. And politicians.

    • Talking your way out of something is quite close, you’re right.
      For me the sweet-talking is triggered by the will to sell a product, an agenda or an idea, while the ducking or drowing of the issue is to avoid the discussion. Do you agree?
      In any case, thank you for bearing with me. Maybe you are curious about the last letters??

  3. Behind the Story says:

    This is a strange one, Evelyne. I wonder who came up with it and what they were thinking.

    • When I researched this expression, it was clear that the origins were a little confusing too. But we certainly use the verb Noyer in France way beyond is literal meaning of Drown. Thank you, Nicki, for supporting this challenge of mine.

  4. It’s not a clever expression, but “Information Overload” was mentioned in Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” as having a similar effect. Studies had shown that too much information could confuse people and lead to poor decisions. I like drown a fish. Maybe the next time I need to call attention to people trying to bring too much information to the table, I’ll say “you have enough to drown a fish”

    As for bamboozle, I can’t hear that without thinking of the movie “The Blues Brothers” In the original version, Jake accuses Elroy of lying to him and Elroy said “It wasn’t a lie, it was bullsh*t” – in the TV version, he said “I wasn’t lying, I was bamboozling you”

  5. I can imagine your friends’ faces if you told them this in French! They would be impressed.
    To illustrate the meaning I thought of one of kids later today. When they were younger and had something to hide from me, they would flood me with lots of details to avoid the topic and confuse me. Sometimes it worked!
    As for Bamboozle, I will always think of that picture book. I saw the movie The Blues Brothers in France and loved it. But it was translated or at least was shown with French subtitles. I wouldn’t have been able to understand a movie in its original version back then. I should watch it again now that I can understand the language!

  6. Bamboozle is a great word, but I do like ‘drown the fish’ – much better than duck the issue!

    • Bamboozle is a fun word, I agree. I love the sound of it and I suspect that the reason my children loved that book as much was because of the title and the fact that it was repeated in the story. Drown the fish is strange when I thought of it as I wrote this post. I’m getting so used to read and write in English that I find “Duck the Issue” pretty visual.
      Thanks, Andrea, for being so supportive.

  7. Now I can’t get “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” out of my mind. I think that started with the great Flo Kennedy, but its origins are cloudy. English uses “drown” in that sense of “inundated” — drowning in facts, drowning in options, even drowning in love. The nearest analogy to “drown the fish” that I can come up with is “beat a dead horse.”

  8. By drowning the fish we leave no life left of the issue — I love it!

  9. Sisyphus47 says:

    This used to be one of my favourites when I was at school, it sounded just right to counter an argumentative friend: “Tu essaies de noyer le poisson!”! Another one was: “le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” to counter perfectionism… 😉

  10. I love this! Talk about an extreme! Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @ http://www.lisabuiecollard.com

    • The French can be quite extreme sometimes. What I like about this series is that I need to dig through the French side of my brain in order to find the best idioms. Thank you so much for your visits to my blog.

  11. That’s some fish Evelyne! Congrats to your fisherman son! So interesting how we go from fish to duck. One of my favourite songs I like to listen to when I go for my walks is called ‘Duck and Run’ as in ‘I won’t duck and run’ but will face the issue and keep pressing on 🙂

    • The fish was impressive, you’re right, Sherri. In fact my son is pretty good at catching big fish out of this lake. He is quiet and patient, two qualities that don’t come from me!
      There are in fact quite a few good expressions using ‘ducks’ in the English language. In French we have a lot with ‘hens.” Go figure!

  12. Carlos W..Porter says:

    Literally: “drown the fish” = continuously pulling a large fish out of the water and placing it back in until it stops fighting. To bamboozle, to obfuscate, to evade the issue, to change the subject, to blind with science.

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