Donner sa langue au chat

Idiomatic French Expression

Donner sa langue au chat
Il donne sa langue au chat
© Normand Gaudreault, Cahiers NG
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Meaning   to give up, stop guessing
Literally   to give one’s tongue to the cat
Register   informal
Pronunciation French sound files [duh nay sah la(n) go shah]
IPA   [dɔ ne sa lɑ̃ go ʃa]

Usage notes: Guess what? Come on, guess! Give up? You can use the French expression donner sa langue au chat to indicate that you have no idea and don’t want to guess any more.

Par exemple…

– Tu ne devineras jamais qui ce qui s’est passé !   You’ll never guess what happened!
– Tu t’es fiancé ?   You got engaged?
– Non !   No!
– Tu as une promotion ?   You got a promotion?
– Non !   No!
– Alors, je donne ma langue au chat.   OK, I give up.

 According to Les 1001 expressions préférées des Français, the original expression was jeter sa langue aux chiens. When you couldn’t guess any more, your tongue was useless, so you threw it away like so much leftover food.

But how did “throw it to the dogs” become “give it to the cat”? It’s either due to the influence of the expression mettre quelque chose dans l’oreille du chat, meaning “to confide in the cat,” or perhaps just a gradual softening of jeter into donner, and chien to chat.

Related expression: Tu as avalé/perdu ta langue ? – Cat got your tongue?

 Related lessons

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Il donne sa langue au chat

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1 Response

  1. Robert 4 June 2014 / 13:48

    For me this expression will always instantly summon the chorus to the hit single “Moi… Lolita” (which is where I first learned it). “C’est pas ma faute…” 🙂

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