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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What are some common French idioms?
Aurore: And how are they used?
Michael: At FrenchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with. She asks Fleur Toussaint:
"What does "I give my tongue to the cat" mean?"
Karen Lee: Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, « je donne ma langue au chat » ?
Karen Lee: Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, « je donne ma langue au chat » ?
Fleur Toussaint: Ça veut dire « je ne sais pas répondre à la question, dis-moi la réponse s'il te plaît ».
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, « je donne ma langue au chat » ?
Michael: "What does "I give my tongue to the cat" mean?"
Fleur Toussaint: Ça veut dire « je ne sais pas répondre à la question, dis-moi la réponse s'il te plaît ».
Michael: "It means "I don't know how to reply to the question, please tell me the answer.""

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll talk about idiomatic expressions, or,
Aurore: expressions idiomatiques
Michael: Idiomatic expressions, or idioms for short, are expressions with a meaning that's very different from the individual words that compose it. The English expression, "Break a leg," for instance, is an idiom that means "Good luck!" We use idioms if we want to convey what would be a long message using as few words as possible.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue to make things easier to understand.
Do you remember how Karen Lee says, "What does "I give my tongue to the cat" mean?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Karen Lee: Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, « je donne ma langue au chat » ?
Michael: If we're going to translate the sentence literally, we would get "I give my tongue to the cat." That doesn't make sense at all, right? Who gives their tongue to a cat anyway? It would only make sense if we understood that the phrase is an idiomatic expression. As Fleur Toussaint had said, it means
Aurore as Fleur Toussaint: « je ne sais pas répondre à la question, dis-moi la réponse s'il te plaît ».
Michael: or "I don't know how to reply to the question, please tell me the answer."
This expression originated in the 19th century when it was believed that cats were guardians of secrets. When you don't know the answer to a question, you "give your tongue to the cat" so the cat, who knows the answer, can put the answer on your tongue. It's like saying "I give up. Just tell me the answer."
Michael: In this lesson, you've learned that idioms, or,
Aurore: expressions idiomatiques
Michael: are expressions with a figurative meaning used to help the speaker get their message across better. Just so you know, you'll find many idiomatic expressions in French that look like their English counterparts. For example, "to call a spade a spade" translates as
Aurore: Il faut appeler un chat un chat
Michael: (to call a cat a cat), and "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" as
Aurore: une pomme par jour, en forme toujours
Michael: (an apple a day, health always). See? The translation is different, sure, but still close enough for you to guess the meaning. Just to be safe though—don't try to come up with idiomatic expressions on your own, just look them up. And a small tip: don't ever translate these literally!
Michael: Idioms are important to any language because they help you communicate more effectively. We've compiled a short list of the most common French idioms to help you brush up your vocabulary. Let's start with,
Aurore: faire la tête means
Michael: which literally means "to do the head." It's an expression used in French to refer to someone who's in a bad mood or is sulking. For example,
Aurore: Elle a fait la tête toute la journée.
Michael: "She's been sulking all day." Here's another one:
Aurore: coup de foudre
Michael: This one translates to "a strike of lightning," but, as an idiomatic expression, it means "love at first sight." Let's move on to another example:
Aurore: il fait un temps de chien
Michael: "It's dog weather." Unless you're a dog lover, you probably won't think this expression refers to fine weather. In some cultures, the expression "dog days" is associated with the hot summer days. In French, however, "dog weather" generally refers to terrible weather. For our next idiom, we have,
Aurore: avoir du pain sur la planche
Michael: This literally means "to have bread on the bread board," and, yes, it has something to do with work. It means to have a lot of work to do. Just think of a baker with lots of bread to bake and demanding customers to feed. Now, this is not the only food-related idiom we have. Here's another one:
Aurore: raconter des salades
Michael: If you read "salad" there, that's because this phrase literally means "to tell salads." This expression is the equivalent of the English expression "to spin a yarn," which means to tell a fanciful story or to exaggerate some details to make a story believable or exciting. Now, we're not done with idioms about food yet, but the next expression is the last food-related idiom on our list:
Aurore: mettre son grain de sel
Michael: This one literally means "to give one's grain of salt." While it sounds similar to the English idiom "to take something with a grain of salt," the two idioms don't share the same meaning. The English expression means not taking something literally or viewing something with skepticism, while the French versions means "to give an unnecessary opinion." This time, let's go back to animal-related idioms.
Aurore: Devenir chèvre.
Michael: This expression literally means "to become a goat," and no, it does not mean to become the "Greatest Of All Time." Far from it, really. What it really means is to get mad or angry. Now, here's a more familiar one:
Aurore: Il pleut des cordes.
Michael: This is the equivalent of the English expression "It's raining cats and dogs," which refers to a storm with heavy rain and wind. And last but not least, we have the idiom,
Aurore: avoir un chat dans la gorge
Michael: or "to have a frog in one's throat," which refers to one's inability to speak normally because one's throat is dry or hoarse. It could be that something is literally stuck in the speaker's throat or that the speaker is simply unable to speak due to fear or nervousness.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: You've probably noticed that most of the idioms we've covered are related to animals. The truth is that French has a lot of animal-related expressions, as do other cultures. Some of them are funny, but most of them have interesting origins. For instance, the expression
Aurore: devenir chèvre
Michael: which means "to get angry," and literally means "to become a goat," had its origin from the French practice of housing goats with cattle. It was believed that goats had a calming effect on the larger horned beasts, and, if you took the goats away, it would end up upsetting and agitating the cattle. And, while we're at it, here's a French idiom about sheep:
Aurore: revenir à nos moutons
Michael: or literally, "to come back to our sheep." This idiom refers to someone's intention to return to a topic they were previously discussing with someone. It is said that this expression originated from the 15th century comedy play entitled
Aurore: la Farce du Maître Pathelin.
Michael: In the story, a man approaches a judge with two complaints involving sheets and sheep. He got the two words mixed up while trying to explain his circumstance that the judge got irritated and said,
Aurore: revenons à nos moutons
Michael: or "Back on topic."


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Aurore: À bientôt !
Michael: See you soon!

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