'It curdles!' and other French expressions to talk about the cold

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'It curdles!' and other French expressions to talk about the cold
Photo: AFP

A new cold snap with a wind chill of -25 degrees in mountain regions and -13 in Paris is set to hit France. So in preparation for everyone commenting on the freezing weather, here's some useful expressions that could come in handy this week.


French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac once wrote "It's in the French character to get excited, upset and passionate about passing weather patterns, for the floating sticks that are the news”.

That certainly seems to be the case at the start of this winter, when the French can’t get enough of talking about the cold weather that is on the way.

Sure, you can get by with "il fait froid", but when you get tired of saying that every day, try out some of these more adventurous French phrases.

Faire froid à pierre fendre – It's cold enough to break stones

You can also say “il gèle à pierre fendre”, meaning “frost to break stones”. This is when it’s so bitterly cold you can imagine the water inside rocks freezing and splitting them open.

Photo: AFP

Il fait un froid de canard – It's duck cold

This expression means to be extremely cold. Why the duck? Well according to some, it’s associated with the duck-hunting season, which starts in autumn when temperatures start to drop. Duck hunters, having to get up early on these particularly fresh mornings, began to call it “duck cold”.

You might not be chasing ducks through the snow all day, but getting up for a wintry morning commute can feel just as bad.  

Un froid de diable – Devil's cold

The Academie Francaise dictionary says the expression describes “excessive cold”. You could even say “froid de tous les diables”, “cold from all the devils” if you really wanted to push your point.

Ça caille! – It's curdling

You’ve heard of a blood-curdling scream, what about weather? This one describes when it’s so cold you feel like it’s actually curdling the blood in your veins.

And then you add...

Se caille les miches/ Se peler les meules/miches

As in... Je me caille les miches... This is basically the French version of the American expression "to freeze you butt off" or "freeze your buttocks off" using an old word for bottom "miches" or "meules", which means "grindstone".

French is no different to English in that many expressions about the cold include body parts. Se geler le cul is another expression for saying freeing your bottom off. Or men could say je me gèle les couilles, meaning "I'm freezing my balls off". Obviously you don't want to be using these in the wrong company.

And if it's wet too...

Trempé comme une soupe – Soaked like a soup

It might seem obvious to say that a soup is wet, but this expression comes from old French, when soupe meant a piece of broth-soaked bread. So it means to be drenched, or as the English expression goes, “soaked to the bone”. Use this for those days when you feel like you’ve not so much been rained on, but completely dunked in water.

Il fait un temps de Toussaint – It's All Saint's weather

All Saint’s day in English, La Toussaint is the day of remembrance on the 1st of November, but the expression can be used all year round. It references typical November grey weather, as well as the gloomy feel of a day devoted to remembering the dead in Christian tradition.

By Rose Trigg









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