What Came First, the Chicken or the Bearskin?

What Came First, the Chicken or the Bearskin?

Just as you start feeling at ease with your level of French, and you can relax and take part in a conversation, someone comes out with a phrase that makes no sense whatsoever. If you are looking for a way to say “you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch” your French counterpart will offer no chickens, but rather something about a bearskin. What’s that all about?The expression “vendre la peau de lours avant de l’avoir tué” means literally “you shouldn’t sell the pelt before you have killed the bear”, and in usage it carries the same implied warning as counting your chickens. While most proverbs translate well, some are completely different, so here are a few of the French expressions and proverbs that you can come across in everyday conversation:

Revenons a nos moutons: let’s get back to the subject [lit. let’s get back to our sheep].

Tel est pris qui croyait prendre: to get a taste of one’s own medicine

C’est au pied du mur qu’on voit le maçon: the proof is in the pudding [lit. it is at the foot of the wall that you get to know the builder].

On ne fait pas d’omelettes sans casser des oeufs: nothing ventured, nothing gained [lit: you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs]

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid: easy does it [lit: little by little the bird builds its nest]

Il ne vaut pas la corde pour le pendre: he’s a waste of space [lit: he’s not worth the price of the rope to hang him with ]

Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide: one bitten twice shy [lit: after a cat’s been burned, it will even be afraid of cold water]

Il faut tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche avant de parler: speak in haste, repent at leisure [lit: turn your tongue inside your mouth seven times before speaking]

Click here for more French proverbs.

Here’s a little fun test. Can you find an English equivalent for this French dicton?

“Qui ne fait pas quand il peut, ne fait pas quand il veut.”

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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