To Set a Rabbit Down or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

This journey through the alphabet is a fun way to show how expressions don’t always have an equivalent when translated, and also to illustrate how literal translations always sound awkward.

 

POSER UN LAPIN

TO SET A RABBIT DOWN

TO STAND SOMEBODY UP

 

bunny

The expression, dating from the late 19th century, was first used when someone didn’t pay for a service or a favor. Over the years it lost this initial meaning. Poser un lapin is now simply used when someone doesn’t respect a prior engagement and doesn’t show up at an appointment, leaving you waiting for nothing.

 

A note about appointment: There is only one word in French for Appointment and this is Rendez-vous (hyphenated).

The French call to book a rendez-vous with their dentist, physician, hair stylist, their children’s teachers, friends, and special ones.

 

Returning to “Poser un Lapin”, do you know of a better way to say “Stand Somebody Up” in English?

Et vous les français, est-ce qu’une nouvelle expression a remplacé celle ci?

 

 

A to Z Challenge

 

See you tomorrow!

To Remove a Thorn From Somebody’s Foot or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

The English equivalent of the French idiom of the jour can also be said in French.

 

ôter une épine du pied.

To remove a thorn from somebody’s foot

To take a weight off somebody’s shoulders

 

However I like the one I picked best. We all know how painful it is to get a thorn stuck under the skin. Often we need in fact someone’s help to pull it out.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

 

This French expression originates from the 15th century, when the noun “thorn” meant also “difficulty” and by extension an embarrassing and painful situation.

 

Wherever you live, whatever language you speak, do you know of a similar expression?

 

A to Z Challenge

 

See you tomorrow!

 

 

 

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.

 

NOYER LE POISSON

DROWN THE FISH

DUCK THE ISSUE

 

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?

photo(54)

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

 

 

Half-Fig Half-Grape or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Like a menu the French idiom-du-jour is all about food.

 

MI-FIGUE MI-RAISIN

HALF-FIG HALF-GRAPE

HALF IN EARNEST HALF IN JEST  (more British than American, right?)

Ambiguous and Mixed come to my mind as well as one of my favorite adjectives: “Bittersweet.” What do you think?

 

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

One said that during Lent people ate figs and grapes, favoring the latest to the former. One also said that the Corinthian merchants added figs to the raisins they sold, probably to increase their profit. In any case, French people say, “Mi-Figue Mi-Raisin” when they want to express ambiguous feelings about someone or something.

A quick but important note: The French say Raisins for Grapes and Raisins Secs (dried grapes) for Raisins.

 

Thirteen more letters to go! Thank you for keeping up with me with the second half of the alphabet, more challenging than the first.

See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge

To Lick the Shop Windows or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Literal translation was my way of life when I arrived in the States, leading to interesting conversations.

The day I told a new acquaintance that I would love to accompany her to the mall but that I would probably only lick the shop windows, she glanced at me in a puzzled and slightly worried way.

 

Faire du Léche Vitrine/Lécher les Vitrines

To Lick the Shop Windows

To Do Some Window-Shopping

 

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

 

The French verb Lécher means to Lick but can also carry the notions of admiration and pleasure. For example, a polished work, especially artistic, will be léché in French. So it makes sense (at least to me and the French!) that lécher the shop windows, while admiring clothes, shoes, or anything in display, is the right expression to illustrate this leisurely pleasant activity.

Hands-on experiences present some challenges and mistakes can be embarrassing, yet they remain, in my opinion, the best it not only ways to learn.

Thanks to an invitation to the mall, I learned that Americans do window-shopping while the French lick the shop windows.

 

I’ll meet you halfway through the alphabet, bright and early tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge

 

Kif-Kif or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Today I am at loss and there are still fifteen letters to go!

I can’t find a literal English translation to this short and popular French expression. The English equivalent I offer is correct, although I’d love for you to help me find a smarter one, if it does exist.

The ties between North Africa and France sadly go back to the times of colonization. But with bad things come good things. Among them the great North African cuisine that plays a big part in the French culture. Anyone who ever ate a real couscous, a méchoui (lamb slowly cooked above an open fire pit) or the North African pastries that go so well with mint tea knows what I’m talking about.

In addition to cuisine, a few expressions have slipped from one culture to another.

 

KIF-KIF

IT’S ALL THE SAME

IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE

 

photo(49)

 

photo(49)

 

This expression comes from the Arab word Kif, which means Similar. Kif-Kif comes with a few variants but this one is the most widely used in France. Qu’en dites vous les français?

We say “Kif-Kif” in French when there are two ways to do something, two ways to go somewhere, when one approach to a problem or another won’t make any difference.

My husband and I sometimes use different routes to drive somewhere. Think Google maps versus a car GPS. If both routes are equivalent in terms of distance and time spent behind the wheel, we can agree that the two itineraries are Kif-Kif.

And if I had to pick between the two lillies above and decide which one is the prettiest, I would say, “C’est kif-kif.”

 

See you tomorrow for the letter du jour!

To Throw Flowers or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

When I moved to the US, I immediately noticed that there were far less flower shops than in France and that American people I invited for dinner always volunteered to bring an appetizer or dessert, something that is rarely done in France, except with family members or close friends. On the other hand, French people always bring a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine, often both, when invited over, something less systematic from American people, at least in the early 1990s. So again, this is natural that one of the most popular French idiomatic expressions has a floral connotation.

 

JETER DES FLEURS (À QUELQU’UN OU À SOI MÊME)

TO THROW FLOWERS (TO SOMEONE OR TO ONESELF)

TO SHOWER (SOMEONE OR ONESELF) WITH COMPLIMENTS

photo(51)

 

 

The expression Jeter des Fleurs has evolved from Tresser des Couronnes (To Braid a Wreath), originating from the 11th century. Wreaths made out of leaves and flowers symbolized dignity. By extension, offering such a wreath to someone would express a compliment. French people still use the older expression Tresser des Couronnes, although I think that Jeter des Fleurs is more widely said. Qu’en pensez-vous les français?

Jeter des Fleurs can also mean to brag if you “Throw Flowers to Yourself.”

For example, you can say “Je me jette des fleurs” if you are especially proud of one of your accomplishments.

You could also say, “Sans me jeter des fleurs,” which literally means, “Without throwing flowers to myself,” or “Ce n’est pas pour me jeter des fleurs,” which means, “It’s not to throw flowers to myself.”

These sentences appear to express humility, while in fact they shout self-satisfaction. A “but…” or “still,” are implied, reinforcing the complacency feeling.

Using a negation is frequent in French when we want to increase the meaning of a sentence.

My American-born children have a hard time to understand why the French say no when they mean yes. Some linguistic tricks are hard to explain when you’ve learned them at a young age.

 

Sixteen more letters to go! Thank you for keeping me company. See you tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

A to Z Challenge

 

Presently Shortly or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

The French idiom-du-jour illustrates how languages represent so much of a culture and how challenging translation can be.

* Irony is frequent in the French language and the French excell in this domain (I notice when I go back)

* There is not always an American expression that will carry the French ironic connotation

 

INCESSAMMENT SOUS PEU

PRESENTLY SHORTLY

IN NEXT TO NO TIME

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

This idiom is built on a pleonasm since “Sous Peu” is almost a repetition of “Incessamment.” Both mean “In a short while.”

The addition of “Sous Peu” to “Incessamment” strengthens the idea of time without any specification in terms of duration.

In fact under some circumstances if one says, “I will come back “Incessamment Sous Peu,”” this can imply that one won’t come back at all.

Do you think of an American expresssion that can match this French expression?

 

P.S. I owe my husband the idea of the iWatch. Idiom and photo starting both with the letter I. Clever. Merci.

 

See you tomorrow!

A to Z Challenge

Hand Up or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

Never a dull moment when you learn a foreign language. Each day brings its linguistic or cultural surprise. Who would have known that people could say the same thing in two radically different ways?

I didn’t.

Again, literal translations never match proper translations, but they can be entertaining.

 

HAUT LA MAIN

HAND UP

HANDS DOWN

 

Don’t you find it interesting that the French say Hand Up and the Americans Hands Down when the win is easy?

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

The French expression Haut la Main originates from the 16th century. Initially the expression was: “To Have the High Hand on Something.” The fact that the hand was raised symbolized the power of authority.

Haut la Main is often used when the French talk about sport.

A match or game is won Haut la Main when the superiority of a team or a player allows a quick victory.

But it will also be said of an easy academic success from a bright student. He or she passed the final exam Haut la Main.

A to Z Challenge

As always, thank you for stopping by, for commenting, and tolerating the unusual frequency of my posts during the month of April.

See you tomorrow.

To Save for the Rainy Days or a Month of French Idioms From A to Z

By now you may have noticed that food is part of many popular French expressions. No doubt that food and perhaps more importantly the rituals around food matter in France. Today in the series of French Idioms from A to Z, a very common expression that I heard a lot, growing up in a French middle class family where nothing was wasted, even less food, and where saving was my parents’ way of life.

 

GARDER UNE POIRE POUR LA SOIF 

TO KEEP A PEAR FOR THE THIRST

TO KEEP OR TO SAVE FOR THE RAINY DAYS

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

This expression would go back to the 16th century, using the juicy pear, a fruit able to quench the thirst, as a metaphor for the necessity to save for the unpredictable moments in life.

If you just started to read this series, I have to tell you that in my early days in the USA I always thought in French before speaking in English. Literal translation, I found out, rarely works.

So yes, I’ve said once to someone that it was a good idea to keep a pear for the thirst in the same way I told another that I had a cat in my throat (a frog restrospectively would have made more sense for the French!) and that I liked men in smokings (tuxedos).

 

See you tomorrow!

 

A to Z Challenge

%d bloggers like this: