To be known like the white wolf? Why do French people use this expression? What does it mean? Does it mean to be known as a dangerous person? Well, if you are not familiar with this and other weird but fascinating French “expressions imagées”, let’s take a quick hop into this article.
What does it mean?
In a certain way, yes, to be known like the white wolf comes from the belief that wolves are dangerous. A wolf is by nature a predator and this quality has given it its reputation. However, when it comes to the expression “Être connu comme un loup blanc” we mean to be well-known, famous, popular.
Where does this expression come from?
Wolves have not been very well portrayed in literature, like we’ve seen in Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs. The wolf is, in every story, the villain, the one to run away from. In fact, in the Middle Ages wolves represented a threat to life in the countryside. Breeders were often scared since packs of white wolves used to ravage the terrains killing cattle and sometimes the breeders themselves, in a period where rabies was striking strongly. At the time, wolves reincarnated the devil, but now when you are known like a white wolf it just means you have a reputation, you’re known by everybody.
Nonetheless, this expression wasn’t always the same. In the XIII century, people used to say “regarder comme le loup blanc” (see like the white wolf) to express the action of seeing someone who looks out of the ordinary. Lately in the XVII and XVIII centuries the expression changed to “connu comme le loup gris” (known like the gray wolf) to designate a very well known person. Finally, in the XIX century the color was changed to white in order to describe a popular person.
In which situation can I use this expression?
Basically, when talking about someone who has a known reputation whether it is a good or bad one. Let’s take a look at some examples found in literature.
- In 1823, Paul-Emile Debraux wrote in Voyage à Sainte-Pélagie : “ Je vous attendais, me dit-il ensuite. Quand je dis, je vous attendais, nous vous attendions, car vous êtes ici connu comme le loup blanc, et nous avons lu votre affaire dans les journaux” (I was waiting for you, he told me immediatly. When I say I was waiting for you, we were waiting for you, because you’re known here like the white wolf and we read about your affair in the newspaper.).
- Le rituel des Minotaures, written by Arnaud Papin in 2012 shows us too the use of the expression in more recent times : “Mais avec le commissaire connu comme le loup blanc dans toute la ville, ça ne manqua pas, une fois sortis de la voiture, une bande de mioches qui jouaient au foot s’interrompit pour leur balancer des ‘cotcotcodé’”. ( But the commissaire being known like the white wolf in the whole city, there was no use to it. Once he got down the car, a group of kids who were playing soccer stopped only to throw “things” at him.)
How would you translate this to your language? Do you know an equivalent expression in your mother tongue or in other languages you speak?
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Written by: Ingrid Hernandez