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'It's duck cold!': How the French use animals to talk about the weather

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'It's duck cold!': How the French use animals to talk about the weather
Photo: AFP
22:19 CET+01:00
During this season of cold and snow, you may well have heard the phrase 'Il fait un froid de canard' uttered more than once. Here's a look at what it means along with some other bizarre expressions that use animals to describe the weather.
French boasts plenty of weather-related expressions that make reference to animals.
 
Here’s a look at some of them. 
 
(Il fait un) froid de canard! 
 
This expression translates to 'It's duck cold' with 'duck' serving as an intensifier.
 
The extreme cold is suitable for duck hunting, since ponds and lakes freeze over, making the ducks’ normal homes in the reeds and shallows uninhabitable, and leaving them vulnerable to predators (like humans).
 
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'It curdles!' and other French expressions to talk about the cold

(Il fait un) froid de loup 
 
An alternative to froid de canard, froid de loup (‘wolf-cold’) is believed to have its origins in Franche-Comté, near the Swiss Alps.
 
When the cold north wind blew, the roof tiles made a crackling sound.
 
Locals believed that this presaged the imminent emergence of hungry wolves from their lairs, obliging them to bring domestic animals (and themselves) inside where it was safe and warm.
 
(Il fait un) temps de chien
 
This literally means ‘(it’s) dog weather’ but is actually used to mean the opposite. 
 
Somewhat confusingly, the expression is most likely a shortened version of il fait un temps à ne pas mettre un chien dehors, ‘It’s weather to not put the dog out’. Not all that far off from a ‘three dog night’, the Australian Aborigine expression for a night where one needs to sleep with three dogs in order to keep warm.
 
Photo: AFP
 
(Il fait un) vent à décorner les boeufs
 
This expression means ‘(There’s) wind that dehorns the oxen'. 
 
This phrase is often understood as a simple exaggeration. In reality, its roots are probably more complicated.
 
The dominant theory is that when 19th century farmers would dehorn oxen (necessary to keep them from hurting each other), they would choose a day that was particularly windy. In the absence of disinfectant, the wind would keep insects away from the open wounds of the animals. There’s a mental image for you. 
 
pleuvoir comme vache qui pisse
 
To rain 'like a cow pissing’ is not one of the French language’s more elegant expressions.
 
Anyone who has had the opportunity to observe a cow urinating will have no trouble understanding it, though French also uses the word vache as an intensifier in general. It is of course equivalent to ‘raining cats and dogs’, but more fun to say.
 
Photo: AFP
 
reprendre du poil de la bête
 
This means ‘to take the hair of the beast’ but it doesn't mean the same as ‘hair of the dog’ in English.
 
However the origin - going back to the Roman myth that the hair of a dog that bit you would help heal the wound it caused - is the same.
 
In French, reprendre du poil de la bête simply means ‘to bounce back’ or ‘to get back on one’s feet’, which is what you may well do after a long, cold winter gives way to the warmth of spring.
 
à poil
 
This means ‘down to your fur’, that is to say ‘naked’, as you might find yourself in summertime on certain French beaches.
 
The origin of this expression is actually an equestrian one, applied to horses that did not carry a saddle, and were thus ‘down to their fur’. Nowadays, it’s applied mostly to people.  
 
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