April showers bring may flowers and other idioms from english to french

By Fiona McMurrey
Courtesy of Paris with Scott

Paris is currently experiencing the mercurial weather that comes with April showers which bring May flowers. As such, I began to wonder if there is a French equivalent, but all idioms defy equivalency across languages. Idioms, those colorful expressions that add flair and depth to language, often reflect the cultural nuances and peculiarities of a particular society. However, when it comes to translating idioms from one language to another, the process can often be intrinsically incomplete as the cultural contexts and unique histories in which the idioms are conceived are incapable of being translated from one language to another. Let’s take a look at some that are interestingly untranslatable and their close-matches.

English to French idioms

1. “April showers brings May flowers”

This quintessential English idiom symbolizes the idea that difficult times can lead to better days ahead. Translating this expression into French presents a challenge due to the cultural differences in weather patterns and seasonal associations. While the literal translation might convey the same message, nuances related to climate and seasonal changes may not resonate as strongly in French-speaking regions where weather patterns differ.

2. “The early bird catches the worm”

This proverbial phrase emphasizes the importance of taking action promptly to seize opportunities. In French, a similar sentiment is expressed as "Le monde appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt," which translates to "The world belongs to those who rise early." While the French expression captures the essence of the idiom, it does so with a slightly different cultural perspective.

3. “Bite the bullet”

This idiom, meaning to endure a painful or difficult situation with courage, poses a challenge for translation into French due to its specific cultural and historical origins. A literal translation would not convey the same meaning, so an equivalent French expression might be "Prendre son courage à deux mains," meaning "To take one's courage in both hands."

French idioms in Reverse

1. “C’est la fin des haricots”

In a literal sense this idiom translates directly to “it’s the end of the beans,” but rather than an absurd statement, this idiom is instead used to convey a sense of disappointment or despair when things go awry. Though there is no English equivalent, a similar sentiment might be expressed in English as “It’s the last straw,” or more acutely, “it’s the end of the line.”

2. “Avoir le cafard”

Nobody wants “to have a cockroach,” so this idiom actually refers to feeling blue, or to have the blues - although this is one of those incredibly rare instances in which it doesn’t sound better in French even if feeling depressed can sometimes feel Kafkaesque…

3. “Poser un lapin à quelqu’un”

Unless this is referring to the bloodthirsty rabbit of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” it makes no literal sense “to put a rabbit on someone” but this idiom is by no means morbid but rather impolite. While it doesn’t have an English equivalent it can be paraphrased through the idioms “give someone the slip,” or “to stand someone up.”

Idioms are a curious linguistic phenomena that encapsulate the cultural, historical, and social contexts that contribute to the fabrication of language and are infinitely fascinating in their endless variety. Translating idioms from one language to another is akin to translating poetry, near impossible because the nature of the words change the sentiment itself and, correspondingly, our understanding of the words informs our experience of the feeling they imply. Understanding the cultural differences between idioms can broaden your mind to the possibilities of not only language but also of feeling, leading to a more empathetic and nuanced comprehension of not only language, but the people speaking it as well.