Entre chien et loup

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?

By | 2016-10-18T15:52:14+00:00 February 6th, 2004|Idioms|9 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. gail February 6, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Salut Céline,
    I admit that I probably haven’t plumbed the depths here but, unfortunately, I think it’s one of those phrases where a translator has to resign herself to losing the nuance.
    In the literal sense, it would be ‘dusk,’ ‘twilight’ or ‘in the falling dark’ and, ‘it’s a fine line’ in the figurative sense. I suppose if you wanted to marry them, you’d have to haul out something nasty like ‘twilight deceptions/shifting outlines of dusk.’
    Or some other metaphor, entirely lacking in bark.

  2. Rym Rytr February 6, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    We have several things which come close:
    1) The Witching Hour. Not necessairly pinned to “time” but relating to what goes on AT that time. Ghosts and Gobblins and evil things.
    2) Friend or Foe. Can be used with additional words such as, “his look was so without emotion, that I couldn’t tell if he was a Friend or Foe (enemy).
    3) Let sleeping dogs lie. That is, you don’t know if they are Tame or Vicious.
    I’ll keep trying though.
    Rym Rytr (Rhyme Writer)

  3. Anthony Hope February 9, 2004 at 9:10 pm

    I think “gloaming” is a possibility. It carries the necessary overtones of eeriness, as the citations from the OED show (see below), although it is a bit literary. “Half-light” might also be a candidate. But I think it’s gonna be pretty hard to beat “witching hour”.
    1. a. Evening twilight.
    c1000 Ælfric Gloss. in Wr.-Wülcker 117/7 Crepusculum, glomung.
    c1000 Latin Hymns Ags. Ch. (Surtees 1851) 16 Crepusculum mens nesciat, æfen glommunge mod nyte.
    c1425 Wyntoun Cron. iv. vii. 827 Fra the glomyng off the nycht.
    1536 Bellenden Cron. Scot. (1821) II. 115 He..efter supper, past furth in the gloming.
    c1610 in Pitcairn Crim. Trials III. 3 This fell furth in the gloming.
    1786 Burns Twa Dogs 232 By this, the sun was out of sight, An’ darker gloaming brought the night.
    c1800 Hogg Song. ‘Tween the gloaming and the mirk, When the kye comes hame.
    1807 Byron Elegy Newstead Abbey ix, Soon as the gloaming spreads her waving shade.
    1830 Tennyson Leonine Elegiacs, Lowflowing breezes are roaming the broad valley dimmed in the gloaming.
    1866 Geo. Eliot F. Holt 2 The happy outside passenger seated on the box from the dawn to the gloaming [etc.].
    1785 Burns Ep. to James Smith 79 When ance life’s day draws near the gloamin.
    1889 Barrie Window in Thrums 144 The help she and Hendry needed in the gloaming of their lives.

  4. céline February 9, 2004 at 10:32 pm

    The gloaming! That’s what it is! Fantastic! Now I understand Radiohead’s song a lot better:
    Genie let out the bottle
    It is now the witching hour
    Murderers you’re murderers
    We are not the same as you
    Funny haha funny how
    When the walls bend
    With your breathing
    They will suck you down
    To the otherside
    To the shadows blue & red
    Your alarms bells
    Should be ringing
    This is the gloaming

    Jolly Radiohead, as usual. Thanks everyone for your input!

  5. Sarah February 14, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    I was playing PlayStation online the other day, with someone called LOUP, who was rather quiet. I now know he was probably French, which might account for the lack of English conversation. It’s odd, Loup sounds quite gentle as a word, Wolf is much harsher and has teeth.

  6. Andréas June 30, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Possibly in English, you could use the idiom
    ‘between a rock and a hard place’
    This is a figurative expression to describe a situation in which there are two possiblities/courses of action. There is some apprehension about which to choose, since they might be worse than the present situation.
    This might be appropriate, but it depends on the context of course.

  7. Netanel January 30, 2008 at 8:32 am

    When i was studying photography in Paris, that phrase was used to describe the time when it was dark enough outside for the yellow street lamps to come on, but they contrasted with the blueness of the sky that wasn’t quite black yet…. so its like this small moment just before night where lights mingle with the coming darkness in the blue/yellow contrasting atmosphere.
    So i use that phrase when photographing in the evening… havent figured out what to sya in english yet!
    Take care, and thanks for the great blog!

  8. adrian cowin February 16, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    I teach photography and my most favourite theme is ‘twilight’. I launch the project by telling my students that the French use the expression Entre chien et loup to describe this elusive time of day (or should that be night?) and mention between dog and wolf but leave it up to them to further research its origins as my French is totally inadequate.
    There was an exhibition the year before last at the V&A. The web site stills carries the images, a few of which I think are exceptional. http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/photography/twilight/
    I vaguely remembered a film called Chien et Loup and have found a 2002 version, but I think I am remembering “Cinéastes de notre temps” Entre chien et loup, John Ford (1966) which seems to be in the era of Nouvelle Vague films (?). Other than being in black and white, unfortunately I cannot visualise any part of the film, so I shall use a couple of quotations to extricate me from this predicament.
    “Laughter is day, and sobriety is night; a smile is the twilight that hovers gently between both, more bewitching than either.” Henry Ward Beecher.
    “The past is the beginning of the beginning and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.” H.G. Wells

  9. Euan, Edinburgh February 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I found this and it’s a good Auld Scots phrase, roamin in the gloamin.
    Sir Harry Lauder
    Roamin’ in the gloamin’ on the bonny banks o’ Clyde
    Roamin’ in the gloamin’ with my lassie by my side
    When the sun has gone to rest
    That’s the time we love the best
    Ach, it’s lovely roamin’ in the gloamin’
    I’ve seen lots of bonnie lassies travelin’ far and wide
    But my heart is centered now on bonny Kate McBride
    And altho’ I’m no’ a man who throws a word away
    I’m surprised mysel’ sometimes at all I’ve got to say.
    One nicht in the gloamin’ we were trippin’ side by side
    I kissed her twice and asked her once if she would be my bride
    She was shy, so was I, we were baith the same
    But I got brave and braver on the joumey comin’ hame
    Last nicht after strollin’ we got hame at halfpast nine
    Sittin’ at the kitchen fire I asked her to be mine
    When she promised, I got up and danced the Hielan’ fling
    I’ve just been at the jew’llers and I’ve picked a nice wee ring

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