Couver quelque chose

Couver quelque chose - hen looking up

This hen is too busy looking glorious to brood anything

I wasn’t feeling well on Tuesday. There was translating to be done and I just couldn’t concentrate. Something wasn’t right. And for once, I needed French to express what was going on. For once, English just didn’t cut the mustard. The truth was, “je couvais quelque chose”. That’s what I wanted to say. “Couver” is what a hen does when she’s sitting on her eggs before they hatch. The English translation “I was coming down with something” just isn’t as visceral. I did feel like I was very close to something living, evolving and about to burst with unknown consequences. Only instead of a fluffy chick it felt more like Sigourney Weaver’s Alien. So I was feeling sick, which wasn’t great, but on the other hand, knowing two languages meant that I was able to express exactly how I felt. Which gave me some consolation.

Then I looked at other possible translations online and found that a similar idea of latency, of readiness can be translated as “brewing”, as in “a revolt is brewing”. Of course, English would have a tea-related metaphor. I also found an Italian expression “qui gatta ci cova” (the cat is brooding) which has nothing to do with an impending illness, but rather indicates that something fishy is going on. I really like that one as well: the mystery of the egg’s content, the calm before the storm, the cat, which loves you one minute and shreds you to pieces the next. What a wonderful maelstrom of uncertainty and menace. All those lovely expressions had some therapeutic effect and did improve my mental health, if not my physical state.

By |2018-04-06T09:38:18+00:00April 6th, 2018|Idioms|1 Comment

About the Author:

Celine
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.

One Comment

  1. Renata Fernandes April 10, 2018 at 1:50 am - Reply

    Hi Céline. Hope you’re feeling better. In Portuguese we can say “estou quase parindo” (I’m almost giving birth, literally translated) when we go through what you went through. But it is said in really informal contexts.

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