One of Understanding Frenchman's favourite things to do as we chat over the dinner table is to drop idiomatic French expressions into the conversation to see whether I continue the discussion without batting an eyelid or interrupt with my (far more usual) “Ça veut dire quoi, ______ ?” At which point he always indulges in a little chuckle before giving in and telling me what the saying means.
And so it was last Saturday that I discovered that not only do the French count sheep, just as we do, when they can't get to sleep, but that their name for leapfrog is saute-mouton, or jump-the-sheep. (Perhaps this is because all the frogs in France have had their back legs cut off and fried in oil and garlic ... bwahhahaha)*
This caused me to reflect that there are quite a lot of expressions involving sheep in French. Moutons de Panurge are the equivalent of lemmings, meaning people who mindlessly copy others, and revenir à nos moutons means “let's get back to the subject in hand.” A quick search in my handy Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions also threw up un mouton enragé (someone who rarely gets angry who has just got angry) and le mouton à cinq pattes – the five-footed sheep which is of course extremely difficult to find. (If you want to say that an action is nothing out of the ordinary, however, it's not a sheep that's involved, but a duck, because the expression is ça ne cassera pas quatre pattes d'un canard ... (or trois pattes) depending on where you come from.))
I was going to look up sheep-based sayings in English too, to find out if there were just as many, but then I thought it would be more fun to see how many you can all think of – ideas in the comments box please!
* Actually, as anyone who has lived in France can tell you, French people hardly ever eat frogs' legs and, when I looked it up, I discovered that per capita consumption is only 60g per year, so there must be another explanation for the sheep.