Pas devant les enfants!
pahd vah lay zah-FAH! Click below to hear this.*
Little pitchers have big ears.
Did you ever wonder how many words there are for pitcher in French? I thought not. It’s not a thing that keeps people awake at night, in general. But I’m going to tell you anyway. You could call it un broc, une cruche, un pichet, un pot, and I’m sure there are more words. If you switch from crockery to baseball, you could say un lanceur.
But nowhere will you find a translation of pitcher meaning child. So how to handle the English expression Little pitchers have big ears, and how did pitchers become children in the first place?
Children are vessels (like pitchers) that are easily filled–and pour out their accumulated knowledge all too easily, as casually as milk over your cereal. Especially if what they overheard was intended to be a secret, or not suitable for those of a tender age.
And the ears? For this, there is indeed an equivalent in French. Les oreilles are the ears that you hear with, but they are also the protrusions or extensions on the side(s) of a bowl or un pichet, by which you pick it up. This double meaning plays well with the English expression, even though it has no exact equivalent.
So what do we say in French? Very simple: Pas devant les enfants, Not in front of the children.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: