To Pull the Devil by the Tail or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Some letters in our alphabet offer more options in terms of expressions than others.  Choosing one for the letter du jour was a challenge.

Ultimately I didn’t go with Sans Tambour Ni Trompette, although it went really well the letter T. Without Drum nor Trumpet is the French version of Without Fanfare. Nice but too similar.

 

Last week a book at my local library caught my eye.

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The title is a very visual English idiom, so I simply looked for its French equivalent, which sounds as visual to my French eye and yet a little more twisted.

 

TIRER LE DIABLE PAR LA QUEUE

TO PULL THE DEVIL BY THE TAIL

TO LIVE FROM HAND TO MOUTH

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

As a child who loved stories I remember how much I learned when I listened to neighbors, merchants, and family members talk with my mother. Sometimes an expression struck my vivid imagination. This particularly visual expression was one of them.

For all French people Tirer le Diable par la Queue is used to illustrate financial difficulties leading to poverty.

One says that a poor person often ends up begging the devil for help, when all other options have been exhausted (and maybe pulling the tail to get the devil’s full attention?).

But according to Claude Duneton, my favorite French author when it comes to expressions and the French language in general, this meaning is fairly recent.

Before the 17th century, Tirer le Diable par la Queue meant to work humbly to make a living. There was no reference to financial stress and poverty.

Why then pulling the devil’s tail? Duneton himself doesn’t provide a definite explanation.

I will leave it that way, too, realizing that popular expressions don’t always need an exact explanation to remain explicit for a large group of people.

A to Z Challenge

 

 

See you tomorrow!

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