I have heard it said that the French expression "Mon petit doigt m'a dit que..." (literally: "My little finger told me ...") is more or less equivalent in meaning to the English expression "A little bird told me..."

However, I came across a politician saying during an election campaign that his "petit doigt" had told him that one of his rivals, who was then the frontrunner polling a long way ahead of all the other candidates, would fail to finish even in the top two. From context it seems to me unlikely that he meant that he'd heard that prediction either indirectly ("on the grapevine") or directly from those with inside knowledge or who were well-placed to know. It seems more probable that he was referring to his intuition. So, if I'm right, the way he was using the expression it wasn't equivalent to "A little bird told me..."

Can someone give me some background to this expression? Is it similar in its connotations to the English language expressions "I have a (funny) feeling that...", or "I feel it in my water that..."? How does it compare with an expression that is more "witchy", such as "I feel a pricking in my thumbs..."? (That one appears in Act 4, Scene 1, of William Shakespeare's play "Macbeth").

How old is this expression? Is there a cultural tradition in France - or perhaps somewhere else in the Francophone world - of little fingers telling people something that by normal means they wouldn't have realised?


1 Answer 1


According to Expressio.fr, it dates back to at least the 17th century and has both meanings - either you heard something and don't want to reveal your source, or you just have an inkling. The idea is that your little finger can go in your ear to talk to you secretly.

This site says the English equivalent is "by the pricking of my thumb." Personally, for this meaning I would just say "I suspect" or "I have a feeling." (I'm American fwiw.)

  • 1
    Interesting. Thanks. I didn't know about the going in the ear thing, but that makes sense.
    – user30218
    Mar 30, 2022 at 21:50

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