Perdre des plumes: a French expression you may hear today

Environmentalists are said to be ‘losing feathers’ in their fight against construction of a giant hen house in Morbihan. We look at three French expressions related to feathers.

30 November 2021

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

Several environmental and farmers’ associations suffered a blow as the government commissioner of Rennes recommended rejecting their request to oppose the construction of a giant hen house last week.

The hen house in question will accommodate 120,000 chickens in two buildings of 2,200 square metres each in Langoëlan, Brittany. It will also have a composting area to recycle the hens’ droppings.

The project will cost around €1.4 million, with €50,000 coming from the regional council.

The project was granted authorisation two years ago, much to the dismay of various residents and associations in the area who are now said to be ‘losing feathers’ in their fight against it.

We look at three French expressions about feathers:

Perdre des plumes (literally ‘to lose feathers’):

This expression means to suffer a loss or damage.

It alludes to the image of birds which, when trying to get out of a dangerous situation, lose some of their feathers in the hurry and disarray of the escape.

It is said that in the 15th century, a plucked bird was a metaphor for financial loss. Over time, the symbolism would have expanded to any kind of loss.

Se faire plumer/ être plumé (literally ‘to be feathered’):

This expression means to be stolen from or to be swindled.

Plumer means to pluck a bird - in other words, to take its feathers.

It is in the late Middle Ages that the expression took on the meaning of taking not just a feather, but anything - to steal.

Se parer des plumes du paon (literally ‘to adorn yourself with peacock feathers’):

This expression means to take the credit for something that does not belong to you.

It was popularised in Jean de La Fontaine’s 1668 fable Le Geai paré des plumes du Paon (The Jay in the Feathers of the Peacock), in which a peacock sheds its feathers and a jay dresses itself in the fallen feathers.

However, the origins of the fable itself date back to the Greeks and are often ascribed to the writer Aesop

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