Poilu... and prickly! in the desert hills of northern Tunisia.

A next-to-the-last call to UK readers: We will be at the Barbican Centre this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday--all day! If you're in the area... look us up! (And it's not too late to get a free ticket to this event).

*     *     *
Did you know that the French word for caterpillar ("la chenille") comes from the Latin word for "little dog"*? Talk about a colorful imagination! Makes you wonder whether those ancient wordsmiths weren't fond of absinthe*? For, just how many of us can see the resemblance between a leggy larva and man's best friend?

Let's have a look and judge (a bit more soberly than those Latin language lushes) for ourselves:
Leggy Larva... and Man's Best Friend

Leggy Chienne

One smacking similarity would be those accoutrements (here, "Dotty"* is sporting painted toenails and Braise (brez) wears her Halloween mask).

Another connection that we will make today, between a potential papillon* and a pretty pooch, is an inspirational one. Although dogs are often the "muse" for artists, a favorite subject to draw and to paint, here at French Word Central, we prefer your run-of-the-mill "underdog" as uber-muse: la chenille!
(More about this, in a minute... and no offense to Braise-The-Dog!).

And finally: fur! Note the "coat" on the subject in photo number two. Stay with me now... It would seem "hair" is the connection between a dog and a caterpillar. Ever seen a hairy caterpillar? Voilà, there you have it! That's all it took for those word winos of yesteryear, those "let's name a worm after a dog" intelligentsia, to connect the hairy dots. Whether or not they had "hair of the dog"* the next morning (after a wild night of wordsmithing) is anyone's guess.

Back to connecting the dots... and to our Dot (remember her?) in today's gallery. Mille mercis to the artists who submitted their renditions of our sweet (chauve*...) chenille. To see The Dot Vernissage, click here.

PS: I almost forgot to post today's word... and I swear the near-oubli* wasn't due to partying with the language lushes last night.

poilu(e) (pwa-loo) adjective

    : hairy

...and, in keeping with our WWI theme this week:

"un poilu": a soldier in the First World War (a.k.a. Tommy Atkins or Tommy). Read more about this term of endearment:

Do you know of any terms, expressions, or other meanings of today's word "poilu"? Thank you for sharing them with us in the comments box.

Audio File:
Listen to today's word and to this French expression:Download poilu.wav. Download poilu.mp3

"poilu comme un singe" = "hairy as a monkey"

Still with us? Why not read about Henry John "Harry" Patch : at 110-years-old he is "the last surviving British soldier to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War, and one of just two trench combatants still alive." Don't miss this profile and read his moving remark, made at Flanders war cemetery:

...and, whatever you do, watch this video, in which the soft-spoken supercentenarian shares his thoughts about war and his aversion to it:


"little (female) dog" = "petite chienne" from the Latin "canicula"; absinthe = a liquor flavored with anis and herbs, such as wormwood. Some claim it has an hallucinatory effect; Dotty = a French caterpillar from Châteauneuf-du-Pape; le papillon (m) = butterfly; hair of the dog = refers to an alcoholic drink that one consumes, the day after getting "cuite" (or plastered), in an attempt to
diminish the effects of a hangover (also known as a good excuse for another drink early in the day!); chauve = bald; un oubli (m) = oversight

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gifts & more ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language
365 Days in France Calendar 2009 (Picture-A-Day Wall Calendars)
SmartFrench Audio CDs Intermediate/Advanced

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There is an even better connection between a caterpillar and a dog. There is a brand of dog called Papillon and that is what eventually pops out of a caterpillar (unless it is a moth of course). Did you know that a moth is a myth's mother?
Have a good day.


From an on-line dictionary:
[Middle English catirpel, catirpeller, probably alteration of Old North French *catepelose : cate, cat (from Latin cattus) + pelose, hairy (from Latin pilsus; see pilose).]

Caterpillar means "hairy cat" in Old French.

The actual Old French was chatepelose. The -pillar portion of the English form may have evolved due to association with a word that is obsolete, now: piller meaning "plunderer", as many caterpillars are considered agricultural pests. Not all caterpillars are hairy, of course! However, words for the "caterpillar" that do refer to cats arose across several Indo-European languages.


Yeaaaahhhh, you finally showed the "Dot" gallery, and yep! There's my "Digi-Dot"... Thank you so much!... I love all the rendition's. That was fun!


Oh this entry is so full of information. I think I'm going to have to spend more time than usual following all the wonderful links. Thank you so much for these interesting details. And I just love DOTTIE!


1) --> Tous mes respects aux “Poilus”, ces courageux combattants de la Guerre 14-18!

2) --> A question of hair, of muse... and flair?
“Dotty” la belle chenille is an “uber”-muse! To me, this means “Super” Muse... and indeed, Kristin's photos of the colourful caterpillar inspired a few talented artists. Congratulations!

3) --> As for “canicula”, I turned to Astronomy:
Sirius / Petite chienne / Canicula, is a star belonging to the Canis Major Constellation, and I have re-discovered the origin of the French word “canicule” (= “heat wave”), “canicular days” / “dog days”...

4) --> Thinking about:
“poilu” ---> couvert de poils / plein de poils
= “hairy” ---> covered with hair / full of hair ....
All these words & expressions remind me of a charming French “comptine” (= “nursery rhyme") about a cute “petit lapin” (= “little rabbit”), “plein de poils” (= "with lots of fur") - excellent miming song for young children.
P'tit lapin plein d'poils (bis)
P'tit lapin plein d'poils partout! (= everywhere)
Par devant, par derrière, (= on the front, on the back)
Par dessus, par dessous, (= on the top, on the bottom)
P'tit lapin plein d'poils partout!

Bon week-end “à tous et à chacun”! ( = “to each and all of you”)

Jules Greer

Hi Honey,
I hardly know where to begin to comment on today's post---have you started taking all of those vitamins I recommended. Your energy level has gone through the roof on this amusing little word. You must be BREATHING
deeply as I instructed you before I departed France. All of that air has made you as high as a balloon, that's what air does. Or maybe you are just HAPPY...I feel joy and happiness in your post today. Maybe it's all of the love and attention your readers are showing you. I am delighted that you have added this comment box - it has many uses.

Also, I loved all of the renditions of "Dotty" - I think you need to do another post on these paintings, they didn't get as much attention as I think they deserve. Let's vote on them or something else, you are so smart come up with a good idea to honor these great artists. At least they remembered to send in their paintings, I forgot all about it. Are they going to sell these paintings-you must have "Dotty" in your office.



Jules Greer

kRISTI-i made a mistake and said "Pear"
when I meant 'DOTTY' can you correct my post. Sorry - MOM

Jennifer in OR

I love the photo of Braise!


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