Here you go with another colourful French expression to end the week on a humorous note. ‘Avoir un cheveu sur la langue’, literally a hair on one’s tongue, is a way of saying that someone has a speech impediment, specifically a lisp.
I’m not sure there is any ‘nice’ way of saying this but the expression creates an image that is immediately understood. If you have a hair on your tongue, it is understandably hard to articulate certain sounds. The proper term for a lisp, which I have just learned, is ‘zozoter’.
By the way, my French bulldog Humphrey shown above does not lisp but he certainly has a healthy tongue with a lot of hair around it. C’est une image!
There are quite a few French expressions involving the word ‘langue’ or tongue. ‘Ne pas avoir sa langue dans sa poche’ is one of my favourites. I’m not known for keeping my tongue in my pocket either.
Well, it’s Friday so I’m going to keep this short and suite. 😜 Feel free to share your favourite colourful expressions in French or any other language!
After the dramatic events of this week in Paris, it’s time for some comic relief. One of my favourite French expressions provides plenty of that.
Let’s unpack this phrase in all its illustrative glory.
As you will see from the delightful drawing above, ‘les dents’ are teeth, an easy enough translation for anyone familiar with the dentist. The ones pictured here are an orthodontist’s delight (or nightmare) as they are veering off at an unhealthy forward angle.
Pictured next to the teeth, towards which they might be said to run or ‘courir’, is a piece of beef. For further clarity, the distance needed to ‘parcourir’ is also shown.
Why the French refer to steak as ‘bifteck’ remains a mystery to me. Just as why they refer to roast beef as ‘le rosbif’ and even more curiously, why the Brits are called les rosbifs. Is it revenge for the French being called frogs?
This blog for English learners (in French) provides some good answers to that question: roast beef is a traditional English dish, the British soldiers traditionally wore red coats and the fair-skinned English tend to turn bright red in the continental sun. (Ironically, though, Brits are not known for enjoying meat rare enough to be that red!)
So, back to our analysis of the French expression. The translation is: teeth that run after the roast beef. In other words, buck teeth. I love it because it is so colourful and immediately creates a funny word picture of what is being described. As the French would say, c’est très imagé.
Whether or not this implies that
Brits are very hungry or they tend to have buck teeth, I shall not venture to
say. You have not grown as long in tooth as I have without learning to keep
dangerous opinions to yourself.
By the way, the English expression ‘long in the tooth’ does not translate in French. ‘Avoir les dents longues’ means to be ambitious.
‘Péter le feu’ may call up images of a fire-breathing (or farting) dragon, but in French it means to be bursting with energy.
And I’m happy to report that after a long, hot summer, during which my get up and go got up and left, I’ve finally got my mojo back.
Je pète le feu.
This week there’s a definite fall vibe in the air, even though we’re currently enjoying a lovely Indian summer. All those cooler nights and early mornings have me energized and raring to go, even, dare I say, looking forward to the change of season. I love the autumn, always have, with the exception of a few weeks in November when I become convinced of my imminent demise. Something to do with the change of light after we set the clocks back. (Although the EU recently announced they would put an end to this barbaric practice, making me oh-so glad to be part of Europe).
Twice this week I woke up before the alarm clock at 5:30. I’ve gotten back into some healthier eating, drinking and exercise habits (yeah, I know…boring). But I’m exploding with ideas for several writing projects, looking forward to my next vacation and frankly, happy to be alive. It has been ages since I felt this way.
Not to brag or anything. That would be a different kind of péter all together.
‘Se la péter’, to show off, is one of those French expressions I gave up trying to fathom years ago. It is filled with pitfalls for non-natives: if you forget the ‘se’ or the ‘la’ it means something completely different. Like to actually fart. Which is not something most people brag about.
Aside from its less than noble meaning, péter also means to blow up, to explode or to crack. Like a firecracker, un pétard. And it is associated with another verb also used to describe being full of energy: gazer. ‘Ça gaze?’
How or why these explosive terms became associated with being in good health and raring to go is a mystery to me. But it seems the French are well aware of the comic potential of the word and its English cousin. The expression, ‘Salut, ça farte?’ was immortalized by the actor Jean Dujardin back in 2005 when he played a French surf bum obsessed with speaking Franglais called Brice de Nice (jokingly pronounced with a long ‘i’ as in Bryce de Nyce). The film, while silly, became a cult comedy classic.
Among the French expressions I love most is ‘à la queue leu leu’. It means to move in single file, one after another or ‘les uns derrières les autres’…
The poetry of those words! I alway imagined they had something to do with elephants, moving in their elegant yet clunky way from head to tail, but it seems the etymology of the expression goes back to wolves (‘leu’ being an old word for ‘loup’ or wolf).
‘Queue’, of course, means tail or something else which I will leave to your imagination.
‘A la queue leu leu’ is often used to describe things that come in a series, like bad news or the long lines of traffic that characterize French life during strike season.
However, it is most often associated with happy occasions and the song of the same name. You will hear it played in the salles des fêtes around France at the end of every festive event from New Year’s Eve to weddings. I’ve also seen it at school fêtes, when even the most staid and stuffy of the teaching staff gets a little silly and everyone ends up snaking around the room in a congo line.
There is something in the air this morning — Spring, I think — that makes me feel like dancing.
Go on, I dare you! Everyone, ‘à la queue leu leu!’
You’re supposed to meet someone at an appointed time and place. They don’t show up. You sit there and wonder: is it me?
In English we call this being stood up. Back in the day when I was dating (pre-mobile, pre-internet, ie the ice age), you had little choice but to wait and wonder. Now, presumably, you phone or text.
I have never been stood up in France. Getting my wires crossed is something else. My feu (late) Belle-mère was famous in our family for les rendez-vousratés. We would agree to meet somewhere then miss each other entirely – in one case waiting on opposite ends of the train station for an hour before eventually giving up.
The French expression ‘poser un lapin’ literally means to place a rabbit. According to my source, aka Google, this rather mysterious term finds its roots in the rabbit as a symbol of fertility and plenty. The original meaning of ‘poser un lapin’ was not to pay someone for their favours, or more generally to leave without paying. Somehow this got transformed into modern parlance for not showing up.
Rabbits are rather common in France. People raise them like they do chickens, keeping a few in a backyard hutch. Rabbit meat is in all the supermarkets. I don’t mind it, although I’m also not crazy about it. The first time I ate rabbit was, bizarrely, at Easter.
Right now in France les chasseurs are out in force. Presumably hunting for Peter Cottontail among other small game in the fields and forests.
Let’s hope he gives them a run for their money. Or places a rabbit.
You must be logged in to post a comment.