On the idiom watch

Stephen Clarke, op-ed piece “Droit du Dirty Old Men”, NYT 5/18/11, about l’affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn:

French politicians are known to be serial seducers, and as a rule no one bothers them about it. It is widely accepted that a male politician can combine efficiency in his job with a tendecy to leap into bed with as many people as possible.

… The danger is, however, that their reputation as “chauds lapins” (hot rabbits), to use the French term, can give them a sense of impunity. Surely it’s a thin line between thinking that because you’re powerful and famous, everyone will succumb to your charms, and assuming that anyone who resists is being unreasonable. By this logic, forcing yourself on an unwilling partner is only making her bow to the inevitable.

(Clarke is the author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French, on French culture and history. The NYT has altered the title — to “1,000 Years of Annoying the French” — to make it suit the paper’s style sheet on numerical expressions; the style sheet trumps everything.)

Now there’s a dead-serious point here about the culture of sexual relations (most French commenters seem to think that Strauss-Kahn is the victim in the story, not the chambermaid he’s accused of attacking), but what caught my linguist’s eye was the wonderful French idiom chaud lapin, building on the belief that rabbits (especially male rabbits — lapin is masculine, and there is a distinct feminine counterpart lapine) are intensely driven to amatory activitity, that they fuck like bunnies, as we say in English (using a formula that plays on the assonance of fuck and bunny).

Chaud lapin — sometimes translated into English as Casanova on Don Juan, or more slangily as guy who’s hot to trot (preserving the temperature image) — has been used as the title of at least one French movie, and Les Chauds Lapins is the name of a band that does (enjoyable and sexy) French swing music from the 20s through the 40s. And it appears on many images, as in this boastful t-shirt design:

and in this ad for Easter candy:

(Made in Fribourg, Switzerland, advertised as “plus sexy et savoureux”. Two in one! Alas, this year’s stock sold out in 17 days, so you’ll have to wait for next spring for your chauds lapins.)

There’s a chain of associations that leads me from the idiom chaud lapin to another French idiom, chauve-souris ‘bat’ (literally ‘bald mouse’), via a student who (possibly apocryphally) got chauves and chaudes mixed up and translated a French passage describing bats pouring out of a cave at twilight as being about a stream of hot mice.

One Response to “On the idiom watch”

  1. Eamonn McManus Says:

    Comment appelle-t-on une chauve-souris avec une perruque ?

    Une souris.

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