Avoir la chair de poule

Welcome again to “Expressions bien de chez nous”. Today we bring to you the expression “Avoir la chair de poule”. Indeed, it has to do with chickens, but not in a literal way. Let’s find out its meaning.

The origins of this turn of phrase

The temperature goes down, you’re cold. You listen to a piece of music that surprises you emotionally. Or you just lived a very scary experience. In all of these situations, your skin probably reacted like “chair de poule” (chicken flesh).

But what does it have to do with chicken? Doctors used to think this was the most appropriate comparison to make in order to describe this dermatologic phenomenon, similar to the skin of plucked chickens. Back in the XVII century, this expression was in fact used only for medicine, where the skin was referred to as “chair” (flesh in English).

The meaning

Yes, you guessed it! This expression means to tremble with cold, or fear to the point of having an epidermic reaction that shows a lot. Putting the trembling aside, it also has to do with the act of bristling.

Some situations

During the winter when you get out of the shower and forget to put on the heater, you can easily “avoir la chair de poule”.


You’re someone who gets scared very easily and one day your partner tells you a scary story about the building next door. From then on you just can’t help having “la chair de poule” everytime you pass by this building. 


This is the first time you go to the Opera. You used to think it was boring, but once the soprano started singing you got “la chair de poule “ immediately and felt fascinated. Now you think you should go to the Opera more often.

Feeling curious?

How can we scientifically explain this typical phenomenon, that is both physical and emotional? The precise term is “horripilation”. Our organism integrated this naturally to the biological thermometer in order to protect our bodies from the cold, thanks to little muscles that locate in the base of the hairs. When they contract, the hairs come out creating little bumps at the surface of the skin.

We have set up some quizzes so that you can better understand this expression. Just click below to access these quizzes.