French Expression of the Day: Un froid de canard

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French Expression of the Day: Un froid de canard
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You might want to save this one for the month of January.


Why do I need to know un froid de canard ?

Because you might be curious why your French friends are talking about cold ducks. 

What does it mean?

Un froid de canard – roughly pronounced uhn fwad duh cah-narr –  is yet another French expression that references an animal.

The exact translation of this phrase in English is “the cold of duck” or a “duck cold,” but the true meaning has more to do with the cold than it does mallards. It is a way of saying “freezing cold” in French. 


There are two ways that linguists have interpreted the expression. The first is that the expression is simply shortened, and that it used to be “it’s as freezing cold as a duck’s feet” - in reference to how ducks’ feet might get stuck in frozen lakes during the winter months. 

READ MORE: ‘It’s duck cold!’: How the French complain about winter weather

But most people think the expression actually comes from the world of hunting, which is an important tradition in France. The idea is that temperatures would need to be sufficiently cold for ducks to move away from frozen ponds and out into the open of streams and rivers, where they would be easier for hunters to shoot. The idea was that once you started seeing more ducks - and they became easier to hunt - that meant the weather had gotten sufficiently cold for them to come into the hunting territory to begin with.

Use it like this

Je ne peux pas comprendre comment j'ai pu oublier ma veste, il fait un froid de canard aujourd'hui. – I do not understand how I could have forgotten my coat, it is freezing cold today.

Si vous vous rendez dans le nord de la France en hiver, pensez à vous habiller chaudement. Il fera un froid de canard. – If you go to the north of France during the winter, remember to dress warmly. It will be freezing.


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