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No. 165: Idioms/Expressions with our Second Favorite Furry Four-footed French Friend

I’m not a cat person. I never have been. I’m highly allergic to cats, so that doesn’t help matters. I’m also a very sensitive soul, which means, when a cat snubs me, I take it personally. Never a big fan of aloofness, felines aren’t generally my cup of tea…

…except maybe this gorgeous Parisian cat, who could possibly steal a petite corner of my heart if I spent enough time with her.


For Lily’s sake and for all you cat lovers, as promised, I’ve uncovered a few French expressions which incorporate your favorite furry four-footed friend. As my morning has been packed, I’ve only had a wee bit of time to devote to les chats, but my initial observation is that cats could use a little more respect en France, at least linguistically.

There seems to be some greed and gluttony and whipping and scalding associated with our French feline friends. Par exemple:

  • il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat: literally, there’s nothing to whip a cat about, or, it’s not worth worrying about.
  • avoir d’autres chats à fouetter: to have other cats to whip, or as we might say, to have other fish to fry.
  • chat échaudé craint l’eau froide: literally, (a) scalded cat fears cold water, or en anglais, once bitten, twice shy.

In regards to behavior, one can be:

  • gourmande comme un chat: greedy or gluttonous like a cat

While some things can be:

  • C’est du pipi de chat: literally, this is cat’s pee, or it’s pathetic, a waste of time, or tastes terrible or weak (referring to coffee or other drinks)…please do not use this phrase, it’s not very polite.

Cats have also found their way to the mouths and throats of the French, as in:

  • Donner sa langue au chat: to give one’s tongue to the cat, or to give up, stop guessing, (as when you can’t think of anything else or what the right answer might be).
  • While we have a frog in our throats when we’ve lost our voice and it’s croaky, the French have un chat dans la gorge, which really must be hard to talk through.

If you are super busy, one can:

  • faire une toilette de chat: wash oneself quickly, or give oneself a lick and a promise.

But thankfully, you can also be (like Lily):

  • amoureuse comme une chatte: very affectionate

Donc, I think we better ne réveillez pas le chat qui dortlet sleeping dogs lie, or as the French say, not wake the sleeping cat.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. There are a fewmore :

    “Appeler un chat un chat “= not being afraid of using precise words, even if not PC .

    “Ils s’entendent comme chien et chat” = they can’t stand each other ( both for the price of one ).

    “Quand le chat n’est pas là les souris dansent” ( when the cat is away mice dance ) This one can be said when any form of local authority is not present . Good for chidren, drivers or employees .

    “Il n’y a pas un chat” = there’s nobody here .

    March 15, 2014
  2. There’s a cruel one too : ” jouer au chat et à la souris avec quelqu’un”, when someone with a complete power upon someone else ( physical, legal or administrative superiority, or eventually a gun ) plays with him just like bloody cats with their preys, letting a fake hope alive for a while .
    There was a kid game in antiquity before kids spent all their time using screens . I don’t know if it’s an international game . It’s called “chat perché”, like perched cat . The hunter tries to catch the others just by touching them, and they are safe as soon as they are roosted on anything but the ground .

    March 15, 2014
    • Hmmm…that’s a grim scenario. I prefer the dancing mice. There’s a game my girls played when they were little called “groundies”, which sounds similar to chat perché.

      March 15, 2014

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