top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon

It’s cold but is it duck, wolf or dog cold in French?

French idioms to describe winter weather

Snow has hit Paris and most cities in France. It is probably freezing where you are and there are many ways to express how cold you are in French. Animal sayings are often used, and maybe you already know about duck cold. Here are some other famous expressions you might hear at this time of the year.

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 and become an easy target.

A slightly less common expression for bitter cold is il fait un froid de loup (it is 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.

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. 

Similarly, you might hear ça pèle, from peler which means to peel. It is actually so cold the skin becomes dry and starts to peel… More informal expressions are also used such as on se les pèle or on se les gèle (we are freezing) – "les" often referring to private parts.

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

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 soup, which was originally a slice of bread soaked in broth, not the liquid itself.

When it is pouring with rain outside there are three famous expressions to use: il pleut des cordes (it is raining ropes), il pleut comme vache qui pisse (it is raining like a cow is peeing), il pleut à seaux (it is bucketing down). They all are idioms for it is raining cats and dogs.

There is also a saying for cold hands: mains froides coeur chaud which means the hands are cold but the heart is warm. It is a famous expression often used by people living in the North of France to say that they always are welcoming in spite of the cold.

A cold, gloomy and grey day 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.

If you want to say the weather is cool, the word is frais (fresh) – which is less bitter than froid. A relaxed alternative is il fait frisquet (it is a little bit chilly).

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Income Tax in France 2023 (for 2022 income)*
Featured Help Guide
- Primarily aimed at Britons, covers pensions, rent, ISAs, shares, savings and interest - but also contains significant general information pertinent to readers of other nationalities - Overview of online declarations + step-by-step guide to the French printed forms - Includes updates given automatically after this year's site opened
Get news, views and information from France