Surprising French expression N°22 : Donner sa langue au chat

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This is a surprising French expression with an origin linked to our favourite furry friends : Donner sa langue au chat ✅

donner sa langue au chat
Donner sa langue au chat

Donner sa langue au chat Meaning in English

This is a very common French expression but what does it mean?

Let’s have a look at the picture, ‘un chat’ a cat 😸, ‘une langue’ a tongue 👅

What is the link ? It literally means : to give one’s tongue to a cat 😊

To understand this French expression better, let’s have a look at its origin ?

Donner sa langue au chat Origin

Photo by Orlando Allo from Pexels

In the past, we used to say ‘jeter sa langue au chien‘ = “throw your tongue at the dog“. This expression had a negative connotation because at the time, we “threw” at dogs only the remains of food.

“Throwing your tongue at the dogs” then meant no longer wanting to look for the answer to a question.

Little by little, the expression changed to ‘donner sa langue au chat’ = “giving the cat your tongue” in the 19th century.

Indeed, at that time, the cat was considered a keeper of secrets. His word would therefore be of considerable value, and it could be by “giving one’s tongue to the cat”, you let him say his word and answer a riddle.

Donner sa langue au chat Meaning in French

Donner sa langue au chat

Donner sa langue au chat means in French :

donner sa langue au chat[v] 

Renoncer à trouver ou à deviner une solution; avouer son ignorance

Give up finding or guessing a solution; confess ignorance

Donner sa langue au chat : Translation in English

Donner sa langue au chat

I think that a suitable translation for this French expression would be :

Donner sa langue au chat

To give up, to abandon trying to find the solution to a riddle

Donner sa langue au chat French example

Donner sa langue au chat French example

Devine qui j’ai vu aujourd’hui? Je ne sais pas, je donne ma langue au chat.

Guess who I saw today. I don’t know. I give up.

Donner sa langue au chat Illustration with a video

This is a fun video from Marcel Zanini, in which children ask him a series of riddle and he says “je donne ma langue au chat”. You can find the lyrics in French and English below.

Quelle différence y a-t-il mon oncle entre une puce et une vache ?

La différence ?
Y en a donc une ?
J’ai pas de chance
J’en vois aucune

Tu devrais mettre d’autres lunettes pour nous répondre, pour nous répondre

Moi j’abandonne, je ne trouve pas
Alors je donne ma langue au chat

La puce grimpe sur une vache
Oui, mais la vache pas sur la puce

Vraiment les puces ont de l’audace d’aller grimper sur le dos des vaches
{Parlé:}
Alors, ça alors, grimper sur le dos des vaches
J’ai jamais vu ça, moi, et vous ? Non ?

Quelle différence y a-t-il mon oncle entre deux hommes de couleur jaune
Si l’un deux tombe dans la Mer Rouge
En sort-il jaune ?
En sort-il rouge ?

La différence n’est pas énorme : quand on est jaune, on reste jaune

Mais non mon oncle, ce n’est pas ça
Alors je donne ma langue au chat

Si l’un deux tombe dans la Mer Rouge
La différence, elle est immense
De ces deux hommes, de ces deux Jaunes
L’un reste sec et l’autre se mouille

Quelle différence, y a-t-il, les gosses entre du beurre et une horloge ?
La différence, elle est immense jamais le beurre ne donne l’heure

Bon, mais
Pouvez-vous dire la différence entre une fourchette et mes chaussettes ?
La différence, tu ne la sais pas ?
Ça doit bien être rangé chez toi !
La la la…

{Parlé:}
C’était la vraie pagaille
C’était simplement une devinette…

What is the difference my uncle between a flea and a cow?

The difference ?
So is there one?
I have no luck
I don’t see any

You should put on other glasses to answer us, to answer us

Me, I give up, I can’t find
So I give my tongue to the cat

The flea climbs on a cow
Yes, but the cow is not on the chip

Really fleas have the audacity to climb on the backs of cows
{Speak:}
So, gosh, climb on the backs of the cows
I’ve never seen that, me, and you? No ?

What difference is there my uncle between two men of yellow color
If one of them falls into the Red Sea
Does it come out yellow?
Does it come out red?

The difference is not huge: when you are yellow, you stay yellow

But no uncle, that’s not it
So I give my tongue to the cat

If one of them falls into the Red Sea
The difference, it is immense
Of these two men, of these two Yellows
One stays dry and the other gets wet

What’s the difference, kids, between butter and a clock?
The difference, it is immense never butter gives the time

Good, but
Can you tell the difference between a fork and my socks?
Don’t you know the difference?
It must be well stored at home!
La la la …)

{Speak:}
It was the real mess
It was just a riddle …

Voilà, this was today’s French idiom in English, I hope you liked it. Click here to find out about the challenge of 50 French idioms in English

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