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French cold weather phrases to see you through winter

Winter has very definitely arrived in France. Perhaps, where you are, it is even 'duck cold… n'est pas?'

10 February 2021
'Duck cold' - a French phrase with hunting connotations
By Connexion journalist

Snow and ice alerts are in place for 34 departments in the north of France, as temperatures reach -10C in some areas. Forecaster Météo France has warned: “This morning, from the Hauts-de-France to the Ardennes, the temperatures are between -5C and -10C. With wind from the north-east reaching up to 20-40kph, it may feel as cold as -15C to -18C.”

With winter weather like this continuing across the country, it's highly likely that you'll encounter some of these fascinating French weather phrases below. You could even try one out on a neighbour if you dare to venture outside!

Il fait un froid de canard

If you want to say the weather is chilly, one common expression is il fait un froid de canard (it is duck cold).

This phrase refers to duck hunting, which takes place around late autumn or early winter, during the migration period when hunters have to stay still in the cold weather waiting for their prey to come close. Some say the expression may be inspired by very cold days when lakes and ponds are frozen over, meaning ducks are more exposed and vulnerable, or by the chilly moments at dawn or dusk when the birds are landing on or taking off from a lake and an easy target.

Avoir un froid de loup

A slightly less common expression for bitter cold is avoir un froid de loup (to be wolf cold) which, in areas like Franche-Comté, referred to weather when there was a danger that wolves would come out of hiding in search of food – and farmers needed to be wary for their livestock.

Ça caille!

On such a day you may remark ça caille! This comes from cailler, meaning to curdle (ie: it is so cold your blood is starting to thicken in lumps…), not la caille – the quail.

Un temps de chien

Horrible weather (both wet and cold), is referred to as un temps de chien (dog weather) – not very polite about man’s best friend! Our ancestors’ poor opinion of dogs is also reflected by the expression il fait un temps à ne pas laisser un chien dehors (it’s weather you wouldn’t [even] leave a dog out).

Un temps de Toussaint 

Weather that is not only cold, but gloomy and grey is un temps de Toussaint – referring to the festival on November 1 linked to remembrance of the dead, due to sombre associations and the typical weather at that time of year.

Trempé comme une soupe

If you go out in dog weather you will probably end up trempé comme une soupe – literally, soaked as a soup. It sounds rather obvious that soup is wet – but this is said to go back to the medieval meaning of soupe, which was originally a slice of bread soaked in broth, not the liquid itself.

Frais, froid, or frisquet

Remember if you want to say the weather is cool, the word is frais (fresh) – which is that bit less bitter than froid. A relaxed alternative, meaning ‘a little bit chilly’, is frisquet.

Related: 

Temperatures feeling as low as -16 hit France

How to cultivate your winter garden in France

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