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A bon chat, bon rat: our French phrase of the week

Like a cat chasing a wily rat, we look at an expression used to describe two well-matched adversaries

We look at the meaning of the French expression ‘à bon chat, bon rat’ Pic: Stuart Wilkins / Shutterstock

As this year’s Tour de France draws to a close this week, we look at an expression which could describe the way riders might analyse each others’ strategies in order to find a way to outwit their competitors.

Read more: What’s coming up? The week ahead in France

The French phrase ‘à bon chat, bon rat’ (literally meaning ‘to a good cat, a good rat’), is used to describe how two adversaries work to improve their respective skills so as to beat the other. 

It relates to the way that a cat will become more and more skillful at hunting rats, but that rats will in turn develop more effective ways of escaping cats. 

The expression can therefore be employed to describe two opponents in any field who are a good match for each other. 

A bon chat, bon rat’ can also be said as an equivalent to the English ‘two can play at that game’. 

Another phrase which could describe the Tour de France racers this week is ‘être sur les rotules’ (literally: to be on one’s kneecaps), which translates less specifically in English as ‘to be on one’s knees’ or ‘to be on one’s last legs’. 

The expression is used to refer to someone who is exhausted as the Tour de France cyclists no doubt are after three weeks of racing.

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