French Barnyard Vocabulary

By Anne Marie Parent

For this column, we offer three French words and an English-French expression, all relevant to barnyard-based vocabulary.

1) Poule (hen)

The word “poule” comes from the classical Latin word pulla, the feminine of the word pullus, which means “very small.” So it designates the smaller version of an animal, which the female chicken, the hen, is, as it is smaller than the male. Until the 13th century the name of a hen in French was “géline,” from the Latin gallina. Those who speak Italian or Spanish will recognize that root word.

2) Dinde (turkey)

In the 15th and 16th centuries, looking for an overseas route across the Atlantic to India, the explorers of the age ended up in the Americas, where they found “Indians” and “Indian chickens,” all proof that they didn’t know that they had mistaken their destination. When Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes returned to Spain the reported that they had found these delicious poules d’Inde in Mexico.

The contraction “dinde” started appearing in French in the 17th century.

Yes, the bird the turkey is native to Mexico. They’re not from Turkey. But large edible birds, like gamecocks and peacocks, were being imported to England from turkey when Mexico was discovered. The English word “turkey” came to mean any large edible bird, before settling on the specific bird we know today. In Portuguese, the same bird is called the peru, another Spanish colony in the New World, under the mistaken apprehension that the bird came from there.

3) Coq (cock, or rooster)     

The king of the barnyard got its French name in the 12th century from the cry it makes, which sounds a bit like “Coco!” The cry the rooster makes, “Cock-a-doodle-do!” is “Cocorico!” in French. In Italian it’s “Chichiricchi!” (pronounced kikiriki). In Spanish it’s “Cocoroco!” and in German it’s “Kikeriki!” In Japanese it’s “Koke Kokko!”

4) The expression “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off”

The French have the same expression, “Courir comme une poule pas de tête” or “sans tête.” It means going all over the place in a disorganized fashion. A chicken can survive for at least 15 minutes with its head cut off. It can continue to run around headless, which must be quite a sight.

One famous bird, “Mike the Miracle,” lived for 18 months after its head had been cut off. In 1945, an American farmer, Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, went out to his barnyard to cut the head off a chicken for his family’s supper. He chose a five-and-a-half month old chicken named Mike. But Lloyd’s axe missed Mike’s jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact. A blood clot meant that Mike couldn’t bleed to death. The headless chicken started to strut around the barnyard.

Lloyd decided to care for Mike. He fed it a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and gave it small grains of corn and worms. He took it on tour, where Mike became famous at sideshows, not to mention very profitable for Lloyd. Sadly, in 1947 the bird got a kernel of corn stuck in its throat and choked to death at a motel in Phoenix, Arizona.

The town of Fruita still celebrates the life of Mike the Headless Chicken every year with a festival in May. Events include an egg toss and a “5K Run like a Headless Chicken Race.”  

About the author

Born in Montreal, Anne Marie Parent’s university studies included tourism management, French literature, sociology, criminology and psychology in both Quebec and Bretagne.

Desk editor at, a community media outlet based in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville district of Montreal, she has been a proofreader and journalist for several magazines and newspapers since 1990.

She has collaborated in several tourist guides, including Testé et approuvé – Le Québec en plus de 100 nouvelles experiences extraordinaires (vol. 1, 2017 and 2023, and vol, 2, 2023) a group effort led by Marie-Julie Gagnon; and Les plages du Québec, a beach guide produced with Sylvie Rivard in 2022.

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