Having a flea in the ear, jamming … The origin of six expressions inspired by animals

♦ Traveling: single file

And no, no error or joke here: an animal, and not least, hides behind those words. But who is it? It’s the wolf! In this sentence the dog is called here by its old name, “leu”, used until the 16th.e century. The term refers to observations from scientists who at the time believed that wolves in droves moved one after the other in a file. But why use the word wolf twice with “leu leu”? This is due to Old French, where it was possible to do without the article and the determiner in a sentence.

This is the case, for example, with Bourg-la-Reine, from which the determinants (of) Bourg (de) la Reine have been removed. The expression “À la queue leu leu” should therefore read “À la queue (du) loup, (le) loup”. The transformation became permanent and only reinforced the idea of ​​a herd associated with wolves in European folklore. The term also today refers to a game on playgrounds, also called Little Train, and even a popular dance, the famous “larva restarting” of the song from La Bande à Basile.

♦ Ardente: having a flea in the ear

Having a flea in the ear, jamming ... The origin of six expressions inspired by animals

Far from the stinging parasite, the formula stems from a sweet feeling: love. From the Middle Ages to the XVIe century, this term truly means to have itching in love. But why such an association? Because the sting that the insect causes is similar to the one you feel when you are in love, such as the famous butterflies in your stomach. Except that in this case they are at ear level. The formula was born under the pen of Jean de La Fontaine in 1665 in “Le Rossignol” from his Stories and news : “Girl who thinks of her absent lover. All night, they say, has a flea in her ear.”

Over time, this turn is transformed, with the appearance of emotions derived from the amorous context, until the meaning of today, being preoccupied and having suspicion teased by an unpleasant and elusive chip.

♦ Milky: have a cat in your throat

Having a flea in the ear, jamming ... The origin of six expressions inspired by animals

The cat is the subject of many French idiomatic expressions: we give it our tongue, we accuse it when an object disappears, and it may even end up in the back of our throat. But how did this fur ball get there? Fortunately, this is not a cat stuck in the throat, but rather an unpleasant sensation that suddenly cuts off the voice. This term actually comes from the word “maton”, the same as the word for the famous Belgian pie with eggs, sugar and especially coagulated milk.

“Maton” is synonymous with the lumps that form on the surface of coagulated milk in a pot, or on the surface of beer barrels when it begins to get its sour taste. But “maton” was also synonymous with a large male cat, “matou”. According to lexicographer Pierre Guiraud, this expression was therefore born of a pun: the lumps of the guard became sore in the throat because of the cat, the cat. Therefore, it is not the hair of our pet that hoars the voice and causes annoying tickling.

♦ Musical: jamming

Having a flea in the ear, jamming ... The origin of six expressions inspired by animals

It is a familiar concept among jazz lovers, which means playing music together in an informal and improvised way, simply for fun. But where does this famous beef come from? Do bovides have hidden talents as jazzmen? The term was born thanks to an emblematic place with Parisian nights:
Beef on the roof. In 1922, Louis Moysès created this café-brasserie at 28 rue Boissy d’Anglas, in the 8th.e district of Paris. He named it as a tribute to the Brazilian tango “O Boi no telhado”, composed by José Monteiro.

Very quickly, cabaret became a center of artistic and literary life during the roaring twenties. Big names follow each other there, such as Léo Ferré, Charles Trénet, Juliette Gréco, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau … Le Bœuf sur le Toit becomes the favorite place for musicians who meet after their concerts to improvise jazz sessions, also called jam sessions. Thus was born the term “Fair a jam”.

♦ Roast: like a rooster in the dough

Having a flea in the ear, jamming ... The origin of six expressions inspired by animals

Nothing beats living a life “Like a rooster in dough”, a phrase that originally referred to the term “Rooster in the basket” or “Rooster in the trunk” applied to the galinaceae that were transported with the utmost care to the market. . The metaphor then shifted to gastronomy with the “pasta” element. This addition comes from the 17the century and could relate to the animal placed snugly on a cozy bed of puff pastry before being put in the oven. It is also possible that it relates to the rooster that has been fattened up with fine mash … to be eaten soon.

Despite the riddle, the authors have always used this term with pleasure, as has Denis Diderot in Rameau’s nephew : “I was like a rooster in the dough. They celebrated me, they did not waste a moment without regretting me. I was their little Rameau, their beautiful Rameau (…).” François Rabelais had used it in Pantagruel’s funny dreamswhere for the latter is the earthly paradise or Pays de Plenty, where one can live “like a rooster in dough”.

♦ Misleading: like an elephant in a china shop

Having a flea in the ear, jamming ... The origin of six expressions inspired by animals

Everyone imagines the elephant as big and clumsy. It is therefore not surprising that this turn, which would date from the 19the century, is associated with a person who breaks everything he touches. Especially since you have to be delicate in a porcelain shop. But is this term legitimate?

American comedian Jim Moran wanted to bring the experience to life. Encyclopedia of Pranks and Hoaxes and Mystificationss, under the direction of François Caradec and Noël Arnaud, tells us the story. “He demonstrated the inaccuracy of the statement ‘like an elephant in a china shop’ by introducing an elephant in a china shop: the only damage was limited to two broken cups and a saucer – the three objects had been smashed by a journalist who was called for the apartment “, reports the encyclopedia. The elephant is therefore shamefully slandered …

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