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Monday, May 8, 2017


[Global Language Services is a partner of World Language Communications]

French Cats vs English Cats: Idioms Translation from French to English

When is a cat not a cat? It happens quite often when doing a translation from French to English involving figures of speech! Anyone who has studied both languages may well have already noticed that the French much prefer the cat over most other animals in their figures of speech, compared with British English sayings. We’ve looked at our favourite French cat sayings and translated them into English - partly as an intriguing vocabulary exercise and partly as an excuse to fill this article with cats!

Est-ce que le chat est toujours un chat, en anglais et en français? Souvent en traduisant le français vers l’anglais, on trouve les figures du style clairement félines que n’existent pas en anglais. On a choisi quelques figures: du style et ‘du chat’ - en partie comme un exercice de vocabulaire, en partie pour chercher les chats!


Á bon chat bon rat

Literal Translation: For each good cat, there’s a good rat.

Translation from French to English: Two can play at that game. But cats and rats would most likely play it better!

Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide

Literal Translation: A scalded cat is scared of cold water.
Translation from French to English: Once bitten, twice shy. Most likely by a cat?

Donner sa langue au chat

Literal Translation: To give your tongue to the cat.
Translation from French to English: To have no idea.*

*Ah, you thought we nearly had a matching idiom, there! When questioning if the cat has your tongue in French, it’s often translated as <tu as perdu(e) ta langue?> No cats in sight. Utterly bizarre.

Avoir un chat dans la gorge

Literal Translation: To have a cat in your throat.
Translation from French to English: To have a frog in your throat. Not quite a cat. It’s turning into a horrible round of ‘would you rather’. Frog or cat? A frog is smaller, I suppose!

Appeler un chat un chat

Literal Translation: To call a cat a cat.
Translation from French to English: To call a spade a spade. What about if you chose to call your cat, Spade? Would that make this more or less confusing?

Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat

Literal Translation: It’s nothing to whip a cat about.
Translation from French to English: There’s no need to get your knickers in a twist. Relieved cats and non-twisted knickers all round, hooray!
C’est du pipi du chat

Literal Translation: It’s cat urine.
Translation from French to English: It’s nothing to worry about. Any excuse to talk about cats, eh?

Gourmande comme un chat

Literal translation: Food-lover, like a cat
Translation from French to English: Describes someone who is either a foodie, and very passionate about food or perhaps even a bit picky. Which makes sense, because have you ever tried to feed a cat anything that didn’t look expensive enough for it? That nose in the air - that’s what this phrase sums up.

Quand le chat n’est pas là, les souris dansent

Literal Translation: When the cat isn’t there, the mice dance.
Translation from French to English: When the cat’s away, the mice will play. Whether the dancing French mice or the playing English mice have more fun? That’s debateable!

Il n’y a pas un chat

Literal Translation: There isn’t a cat.
Translation from French to English: There isn’t a soul. Trying to describe a deserted street in French? The cats, or lack of them, will sum up the image perfectly.

So there you have it! Looking for more English to French translation? World Language Communications is happy to count Global Language Services as a global partner. We work in partnership to provide translation, interpretation and more in over eighty languages, employing talented individuals translating into their native language. We pride ourselves on speed and efficiency, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with your translation and interpretation needs!

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