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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Groin groin, coin coin and meuh – The weird things French animals say

So you think you speak French, but do you know what dogs, cows and pigs say?

Groin groin, coin coin and meuh - The weird things French animals say
Do you know what French pigs say? Photo: AFP

Ask a child what any animal says and they will most certainly know the answers. But ask a French and an English-speaking child the same questions, their responses will be quite different.

Just like French people, French animals 'speak' differently to English ones – sometimes they are more quirky and funnier, other times the sound hits the nail on the head in a way English expressions do not.

Here's a look at some of our favourites.

Cat – miaou, ronron

In French, meow is spelled miaou, but pronounced pretty much the same. When French cats meow, ils miaulentMiauler is the French verb for 'to meow'. Un chat miaule – a cat meows. 

The funnier version of cat-speak is the French version of 'purring'. In French, purring is called des ronronnements. 

Si le chat est bien content, il ronronne. – If the cat is really enjoying himself, he purrs.

Dog – wouf wouf/ouaf ouaf

Depending on whether we are talking about those deep barks of a big dog, or the sharp yelps of a tiny dog, dogs in France say wouf wouf or oaf oaf when they aboie – bark.

But dogs can also grogner (to growl), or even hurler (howl). J'ai peur des chiens qui grognent. – I'm afraid of dogs growling dogs.

You may recall that Tintin's dog Snowy says wooah wooah – but he's Belgian. In the French-language version of the comics, Snowy is named Milou.

Rooster – cocorico

In English speaking countries, roosters crow. In France, they chante – sing – a quite lenient way to describe what others would just call noise.

READ ALSO How a noisy cockerel exposed France's rural and urban divide 

As you may know, le coq gaulois – the Gallic rooster – is France's unofficial national symbol, and the French national football team's shirts all have tiny cockerels sewn in on them.

Alors, que dit le coq ? What, does the coq say?

Cocorico ! That's the French equivalent of cock-a-doodle-doo', which is pronounced cock-o-ricoooh.

French President Emmanuel Macron is petting one of the cows at France's annual agricultural affair, back in February. Photo: AFP

Cow – meuh

In English, cows moo.

In French, la vache mugit – the cow moos. Lorsqu'une vache mugit, elle dit meuh. – When a cow moos, she says 'meuh'.

Meuh is pronounced with a flat 'e' instead of the 'oo'. If you know basic French, you know the difference between a 'é' and an 'e', and it's this latter you use when pronouncing meuh. Just like meuf (chick, the female human, not the bird).

Duck – coin coin 

French ducks don't quack, at least not like the English ones do. In French, ducks say coin coin instead, which looks odd, but is actually pronounced 'kwa kwa'. The verb is cancaner (to quack), which also can mean ‘to gossip’.

Chicken – cot cot codet

In France, a chicken says cot cot codet, not cluck-cluck. If you're wondering how that's pronounced you should listen to the song in the video below by Professor Choron, a French comedian.

 
Pig – groin groin

French pigs' version of oink oink is groin groin, which is perhaps the oddest of all these animal expressions, especially to Anglophones, who know 'groin' as a more sensitive part of the body.

Donkey – hi han

When it comes to donkey sounds however, France has gotten it spot on. Compared to the British 'eeyore', hi han (pronounced hee-haw) is much truer to what donkeys actually sound like (video below).

Not all English versions of the terrible noise that donkeys produce are that far off, the Americans say 'hee-haw', just like the French pronounce hi han.

Turkey – glou-glou

In France, a turkey's gobble gobble is called glouglouter. When a turkey glougloute, they say glou-glou (gobble gobble in English). It's called le cri de la dinde – the turkey's scream.

Sheep – bêê

The French equivalent of baaa is broadly similar, French sheep say bêê.

The verb is bêler – to bleat.

Although the French describe dull or unoriginal people as comme des moutons (like sheep) in the same way as in English, there is no tradition of making a sheep noise at someone to suggest they are a dullard, so we would suggest you refrain from making bêê bêê noises in public, you will just make yourself look strange. 

Goat – bêê

And last but not least, French goats also say bêêUne chèvre béguète – a goat baas.

Member comments

  1. Ever since I learned in South America that roosters go “co-co-ro-co” or “qui-qui-ri-qui” this topic has fascinated me. Thanks for the article. A related question: when food is good, English speakers say “yum!” French speakers say “Miam!”

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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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