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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

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

During the chilly winter season, you may well have heard the phrase 'Il fait un froid de canard' - here are some of our favourite animal-related French phrases that will come in handy during winter.

'It's duck cold!': How the French complain about winter weather
Nice weather for ducks? Photo: AFP
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).
 
READ ALSO:
(Il fait un) froid de loup 
 
An alternative to froid de canard, froid de loup (wolf-cold) is believed to have its origins in Bourgogne-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. 
 
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 expression for a night where one needs to sleep with three dogs in order to keep warm.
 
(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
 
‘Raining like a pissing cow’ 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.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Inchiodare’

You'll nail this word in no time.

Italian word of the day: 'Inchiodare'

What do a carpenter, a detective, and a bank robber screeching to a halt in their getaway car all have in common?

In English, not much – but in Italian, they could all be said to inchiodare (eenk-ee-ohd-AHR-eh) in the course of their professional activities.

In its simplest form, inchiodare simply means ‘to nail’ (chiodo, ‘kee-OH-do’, is a nail) – a picture to a wall, or a leg to a table.

Ha trovato questo cartello inchiodato alla sua porta.
She found this notice nailed to her door.

Inchioderò la mensola al muro più tardi.
I’ll nail the shelf to the wall later.

But like ‘to nail’, inchiodare has more than one definition.

You can use it to describe someone or something being ‘pinned’ in place, without actually having been literally nailed there.

Mi ha inchiodato al muro.
He pinned me to the wall.

La mia gamba è inchiodata al terreno.
My leg is pinned to the ground.

You can be metaphorically inchiodato to a place in the sense of being stuck there, tied down, or trapped.

Dovrei essere in vacanza e invece sono inchiodata alla mia scrivenia.
I should be on holiday and instead I’m stuck at my desk.

Don'T Forger You'Re Here Forever GIF - The Simpsons Mr Burns Youre Here GIFs

Siamo inchiodati a questa scuola per altri tre anni.
We’re stuck at this school for another three years.

Sono stati inchiodati dal fuoco di armi.
They were trapped by gunfire.

Just like in English, you can inchiodare (‘nail’) someone in the sense of proving their guilt.

Chiunque sia stato, ha lasciato tracce di DNA che lo inchioderanno.
Whoever it was, they left traces of DNA that will take them down.

Ti inchioderò per questo omicidio.
I’m going to nail you for this murder.

Thomas Sadoski Tommy GIF by CBS

Senza la pistola non lo inchioderemo, perché non abbiamo altre prove.
Without the gun we’re not going to get him, because we have no other proof.

For reasons that are less clear, the word can also mean to slam on the brakes in a car.

Ha inchiodato e ha afferrato la pistola quando ha visto la volante bloccando la strada.
He slammed on the brakes and grabbed the gun when he saw the police car blocking the road.

Hanno inchiodato la macchina a pochi passi da noi.
They screeched to a halt in the car just a few feet away from us.

Those last two definitions mean that you’re very likely to encounter the word when watching mystery shows or listening to true crime podcasts. Look out for it the next time you watch a detective drama.

In the meantime, have a think about what (or who) you can inchiodare this week.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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