Of all the expressions in the French language, Entre chien et loup (literally translated as between dog and wolf) has to be my all-time favourite. It was brought to my attention by Meredith, who came across the phrase in an essay. She really liked it and asked me how I would translate it into English.
My answer was: I don’t know. I only translate from English into French and it’s more difficult for me to go the other way around. As a general rule, translators only translate into their mother tongue. However fluent and brilliant you are in your second or third language, it is very difficult to produce a translation that reads like an original (one of the priorities of a translator) if you use a language that hasn’t been part of your everyday life from day one.
Once I did a translation that was proofread by a French to English translator whose French was first rate, my client assured me, as he was a French lecturer in a very good university. He inserted misspellings, grammatical errors and clumsy corrections in my translation. Now I have no doubt that his French was fantastic and that he is an excellent English translator, but there is no way a non-native speaker can surpass a native speaker in terms of fluency and the level of intimacy with the language. Of course, this raises the issue of bilingual people and whether it is possible to have two languages at exactly the same level, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day.
Anyway, as a French speaker, my knowledge of English idioms is limited and this is why I would like the help of the English native speakers who might be reading this.
Entre chien et loup is a multi-layered expression. It is used to describe a specific time of day, just before night, when the light is so dim you can’t distinguish a dog from a wolf. However, it’s not all about levels of light. It also expresses that limit between the familiar, the comfortable versus the unknown and the dangerous (or between the domestic and the wild). It is an uncertain threshold between hope and fear.
So, how would you translate it?