04 January 2009

Un froid de canard

Ça caille à Saint-Aignan ce matin. It's colder than a well-digger's elbow. That's called "a duck's cold" in French — il fait un froid de canard. Freezing cold. That's because when wild ducks fly over, headed south, it's often often during cold spells. Ponds freeze over and the ducks are forced to move on to new feeding areas. And it might also have to do with how cold duck hunters get in winter as they wait in their blinds for some ducks to shoot at.

Water in a ditch up in the vineyard.
Oui, ça caille...

The dictionary gives "cold as charity" — that must be a British expression. In America we talk about witches' unmentionable parts and things you find on brass monkeys. Un froid sibérien, autrement dit — un froid de loup. When it gets and stays so cold that the wolves have to come out of hiding to find food.

So — "How cold is it?" I don't have a Johnny Carson answer to that. But the thermometer says it's -6ºC this morning. That's about +21ºF. And that's cold for Saint-Aignan. Though I hear stories about the great cold wave of the early 1980s, when the temperature went down as low as minus 20ºC — minus 4ºF — and people couldn't cut wood because all the tree trunks froze solid. That cold spell lasted for a month, they say.

Here's the forecast for tomorrow afternoon — snow.

So what does « ça caille » mean? That's where this post started. It means "to curdle, to clabber, to clot." As milk or cream or blood does, or as water does when temperatures drop below freezing. Or body parts, as in « on va se les cailler ». You choose the parts that you think are going to freeze off. Toes. Fingers. Ears. Buns. Any other ideas?


  1. I do not comment very often, but I like reading your blog. It's really interesting. I always like the food pics.

    On dit aussi qu'il fait un froid de chien.

  2. Minus 2°C this morning overhere (up north:)), but snow is announced and you can feel it in the air .. it's coming! After that, Siberian temperatures (-9 to -15) for Monday night and Tuesday. Luckily I still have the day off tomorrow ... so with a bit of luck, I'll escape the worst. Martine

  3. +3*C this morning at 08:00 in Bay Area, CA.

  4. Ha ha ha, Melinda. We eagerly await tomorrow's snow, with some skepticism.

    Martine, it was warmer in Belgium than in Saint-Aignan. Our high temp. today was 0C.

    Alors, Anonymous, pourquoi dit-on un froid de chien ? Moi je ne sais pas.

    Et puis l'autre Anonymous, 3ºC c'est très froid autour de la Baie de San Francisco. Couvrez-vous bien si vous sortez le matin...

  5. My friend Deborah in Rome says it's -1°C there. But, Ken, I'm sure you've felt worse cold in Illinois when you were in school. I remember midwest winters with wind chill of 30 below, and I certainly don't miss those days.

  6. Ginny, you are right. I remember many days in Champaign-Urbana when the temperature was below 0ºF, and that's a lot colder than it generally gets in Saint-Aignan.

    In fact, I remember a winter in the late 1970s when the temperature in Champaign went down to minus 25ºF — that's minus 32ºC, and that was the temperature, not the wind-chill factor, which was -80º or something ridiculous like that.

    They closed the university because they wanted students and professors and staff to stay indoors. Our houses and apartments were cold, however. It was so cold the oil filter on my car froze and burst.

    The French teaching assistants who were in Champaign that year had never seen such weather, and neither had I, coming from coastal North Carolina.


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