Tu as l’air d’une poule qui a trouvé un couteau.
tew ah lair dewn pool kee ah troo-vay uh koo-TOE. Click below to hear this.
You look puzzled.
The English doesn’t have nearly enough words, does it? That’s because the French is one of those great picturesque expressions that have no close equivalent in English. You look like a chicken that found a knife.
Okay, let’s pretend that makes sense for a moment. Most chickens don’t know how to use a knife (it’s those darned opposable thumbs again!–not to mention fingers), so we can imagine that a chicken might be puzzled on encountering one. What’s it for? What to do with it?
One might think there’s a more sinister meaning lurking behind this expression: the knife could be used to butcher the chicken for tonight’s dinner, so the chicken ought to be scared out of her feathers. But that’s not the case. The expression merely means that someone looks puzzled or baffled, not frightened.
Then there’s look like. If you depended on a word-for-word translation (or perhaps a computer), you might come up with something like *Tu regardes comme une poule: regarder (to look at or watch) and comme (like). But that asterisk is there for a reason: it means that the expression doesn’t exist in correct French, at least not meaning what we mean in English. *Regarder comme would mean to see in the manner that … sees. How do we know how a chicken sees? Or a fly, with its multiple eyes? Or a dog, said to be colorblind? Or even another person, who might be nearsighted?
Then there’s ressembler à, to look like or resemble. But you wouldn’t want to say Tu ressembles à une poule to anyone you care for. Would you want to be told you look like a chicken?
So we use the expression avoir l’air de. It means to look like in the sense of acting like: literally, to have the air of (a chicken).
All the same, keep the knives away from the chickens. You never know when they might come after us. Then we will be the ones who avons l’air d’une poule qui a trouvé un couteau.