La nuit des temps and more French expressions about the night

With new coronavirus restrictions restricting nightlife in France, we look at three French expressions with the word ‘night’

8 December 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

New coronavirus measures mean nightclubs will be closed for at least four weeks from Friday December 10.

Read more: France announces six new Covid measures in bid to combat fifth wave

The restrictions were announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday, December 6, who justified the decision by saying that “the virus circulates a lot among young people and it is difficult to wear a mask in these places”.

December is one of the hospitality industry’s most lucrative months due to New Year celebrations.

However, Mr Castex assured that the government will financially support businesses impacted.

We look at three French expressions related to the night:

La nuit des temps (literally ‘the night of the times’):

This expression relates to a very remote period of time so far in the past that it is fading from collective memory. It is often used hyperbolically.

It is likely that it has biblical origins as the Bible states that before the creation of the world, there was night and chaos. The expression would therefore mean that an event occurred so long ago, it was the beginning of time.

Another theory is that the night represents darkness and by extension obscurity, as it is a period of time that we don’t know much about.

La nuit, tous les chats sont gris (literally ‘at night, all the cats are grey’):

This proverb conveys the idea that the night can easily deceive and confuse.

It dates back to at least the 17th century, when it appeared in 1640 in linguist Antoine Udin’s Curiositez françoises accompanied by the explanation ‘all women are beautiful in the dark’.

The English have a similar expression – ‘all cats are grey in the dark’ – which suggests that appearances don’t matter.

La nuit porte conseil (literally ‘the night brings advice’):

This saying expresses the idea that before making an important decision, one should wait at least one night so as not to make it impulsively and later regret it.

An English equivalent might therefore be ‘to sleep on it’.

The French expression is said to have derived from an earlier form –  la nuit est mère de conseil (‘the night is the mother of advice’) – that dates back to the 16th century, although the idea of the night bringing clarity and good advice can be traced back to the Greeks.

Faire une nuit blanche (literally ‘to do a white night’):

This expression refers to a night without sleep.

It is said to date back to the Middle Ages, when pretenders would spend a night praying and fasting in white robes before being knighted, or to 18th-century parties in St Petersburg where the sun never seemed to fully set in summer, creating a ‘white night’.

Read more: ‘Nuit blanche’, and other expressions with the word ‘white’ in French

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