I've seen Une vie de chat, and there is a moment when the thief talks to the girl, and asks her name, and she doesn't reply, and then the thief asks "Tu ne veux pas me parler, t'as donné ta langue aux chats?".

My dictionary gives a translation "refuse to guess / refuse to solve a puzzle", but it doesn't really suit the context. What is the intended meaning here?

Also, the dictionary mentions that it is also possible to say "donner (ou jeter) sa langue aux chiens". Is it possible and if yes, does it have the same meaning?

  • 1
    I'd say "What's the matter, cat got your tongue?"
    – JL344
    Jul 8 '12 at 4:58
  • 2
    A very funny thing happened here. This phrase was used not idiomatically, but almost in its direct meaning. But translated into English, it has happened to take exactly the form of another idiom, this time an English one, the one that you've cited. Now, given almost total European bilinguism, I can only guess whether the person who has written this dialogue has foreseen this translation trick (or was he even counting on it?).
    – Olga
    Jul 9 '12 at 20:05
  • Olga's comment refers to JL344's one, for those blindly searching for said idiom. Oct 7 '12 at 21:36

I gather there's a pun.
"Je donne ma langue au(x) chat(s)" as your dictionary says a colloquial phrase meaning "I give up guessing, just tell me". But in the context you describe I expect it is not used in the figurative way but strictly means the girl has given her tongue to the cat, therefore she's lost it and can't talk.

"Donner sa langue au(x) chien(s)" has the same meaning and I don't think it is really used nowadays.
See French dictionary here for meaning and here for a possible origin.

  • Thank you for the quick answer. I hoped there to be some kind of jeu de mots, and it's just a joke. Well, at least the dictionary is correct =) So, "donner sa langue aux chats" is still in use, but not "donner sa langue aux chiens"?
    – Olga
    Jul 6 '12 at 18:44
  • 2
    @Olga: Personnellement je n'emploie pas « je donne ma langue aux chiens » et ne l'entends pas dire en France autour de moi (mais la France n'est pas le seul pays francophone !).
    – None
    Jul 7 '12 at 9:14
  • Merci =) Est-ce que c'est la mem chose pour "... aux chats"?
    – Olga
    Jul 7 '12 at 9:30
  • 4
    @Olga: Donner sa langue au chat est une expression familière très courante en français de France.
    – None
    Jul 7 '12 at 9:43
  • @Laure au Canada, c'est la même chose, je n'ai jamais entendu "donner sa langue aux chiens", mais "donner sa langue aux chats" est courant.
    – AboveFire
    Jan 12 '16 at 20:36

« Jeter sa langue au chien » est une très ancienne expression puis elle a évolué et s'est transformée en « Donner sa langue au chat » pour que ce soit moins barbare.

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