I have other cats to whip
Other Cats to Whip, The Book of French Idioms is out now.
Idiomatic expressions are the personality of a language. So what does it say about us French that when meaning to say ‘I have more important things to do’ what comes out of our mouths is ‘I have other cats to do whip’? J’ai d’autres chats a fouetter. Mmmm…
It apparently comes from the 17th century expression Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat which meant ‘it’s not worth whipping a cat about it’ or ‘this is a harmless fault’. From there… the idea that whipping cats is completely trivial (or maybe just unthinkable?) and therefore… if you have other cats to whip, well that means that what’s being talked about is really really very unimportant.
These idiomatic phrases are fun to think about and certainly make for comical illustrations. Graham Clark and Zubair Arshad give us a delightful little book which presents these linguistic oddities as flash cards with their literal translations and English equivalents.
I had a great time going through the book; as a native speaker I didn’t necessarily already have visual representations of these expressions. Tomber dans les pommes, ‘To fall in the apples’ (or ‘to faint’) was one of my favourites. And I even learnt some new expressions like Sortir de la gueule d’une vache, ‘to come out of a cow’s mouth’… I didn’t know that meant ‘to be creased’. But I’ll take your word for it Graham and Zubair!