C’est du tonnerre!
say dew tun-NAIR! Click below for the sound file:
That’s amazing / awesome / stupendous / fantastic / terrific!
And not That’s thunder, though that’s what it appears to mean!
If someone asks you, What’s that noise? (C’est quoi, ce bruit? say KWAH, suh BRWEE?), your answer in French is likely to be Il y a de l’orage: eel yah duh lo-RAHZH, There’s a storm, rather than C’est du tonnerre.
The expression has so competely lost its literal sense that Émile Zola, the great 19th-century French naturalist novelist, once wrote this line: Il faisait très beau, un soleil du tonnerre (eel fuh-zay tray bo, uh so-LAY-yuh dew tun-NAIR). It was a beautiful day, brilliantly sunny. The line is more than a little reminiscent of Kipling’s far more famous refrain from his poem “The Road to Mandalay”: An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China / ‘crost the Bay! No thunder in either scene, but what evocative language!
You can even use this expression as an adverb: Ma nouvelle voiture marche du tonnerre (mah noo-vell vwah-TEWR maarsh dew tun-NAIR, My new car runs like nobody’s business).
And yet le tonnerre does mean thunder–the sound of the electrical discharge that also causes a flash of lightning: un éclair (uh nay-CLAIR, not to be confused with a lovely pastry filled with cream…). The whole thunder-and-lightning package is called la foudre (lah FOO-druh) in French.
Which brings us to one more thought…No, wait, let’s save that one for tomorrow!