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).

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