What really makes you tick ?

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Chris, Oct 31, 2004.

  1. Chris Member

    France - French

    What does this phrase mean ? "What really makes you tick" I dont understande it !!
    Thanks a lot for your support

  2. OlivierG

    OlivierG Senior Member

    Toulouse, France
    France / Français
    I'm not sure about this, but "to tick" seems to be related to heart beat.
    So "What really makes you tick" probably means litterally "Qu'est-ce qui fait battre votre coeur", in a figurative way.
    So it could be translated by "Quelles sont vos motivations/aspirations profondes" or "Qu'est-ce qui vous fait vraiment kiffer ?" ;)
  3. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    Make someone tick (idiom)
    I can't figure out what makes him tick. He's an unusual person.

    From Merriam Webster:
    to tick: to operate as a functioning mechanism : RUN <tried to understand what made him tick>
  4. Focalist Senior Member

    European Union, English
    Yes, the image comes from the ticking of a clock or watch (*). I know that it works (it goes "tick") but I don't understand how (what makes it tick).

    An Irish-speaking child once asked me a riddle: why are watches clever? Answer: Because they say "understand, understand, understand" ("tuig, tuig, tuig" in Irish).


    (*) Olivier, you are right, though, that a ticking clock is sometimes used as a metaphor for the human heart: "He had trouble with his ticker" (he had a heart disease).
  5. OlivierG

    OlivierG Senior Member

    Toulouse, France
    France / Français
    So, what is the meaning of "What really makes you tick"?
    "Qu'est-ce qui vous fait vraiment fonctionner" has not an obvious meaning in French. :(
  6. Chris Member

    France - French
    Hi everybody,

    I thank you for your answers and useful explanations !!!!!
    I think "Quelles sont vos motivations/aspirations profondes" is a really good translation !
    Kind regards
  7. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    Think of this: what makes the world go round? (If you feel like answering... :D )
  8. Shouldn't we say "what makes the world goes round ?" I'm not quite sure actually...
  9. panzemeyer

    panzemeyer Senior Member

    France / French
    Make + infinitive. ;)
  10. edwingill Senior Member

    England English
    there could be another context:Qu'est-ce qui se passe vraiment dans votre tête
  11. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    I agree that Olivier's translation is really good :thumbsup: however may be a little too litterate. By this I mean... not as "colloquial" as the English "makes you tick". His suggestion # 2 works better in my opinion.

    Que pensez-vous de "Quest-ce qui vous allume?" ... un peu plus international que kiffer :D
  12. Jean-Michel Carrère Senior Member

    French from France
    un peu moins djeun (jeune) que "faire kiffer" mais toujours familier : brancher

    qu'est-ce qui te branche ?
  13. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    Vous l'avez déjà compris, mais je voudrais ajouter que "tick" provient ici du tic-tac d'une horloge, je pense. Une traduction bien trop calquée, donc : qu'est-ce qui te remonte ?
  14. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Moi, j'aime bien :)
  15. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    Qu'est-ce qui te fait vibrer ?
  16. anangelaway

    anangelaway Senior Member

    Dans le même registre je pense que, je dirais :

    Qu'est-ce qui te fait vraiment vibrer ?
    C'est quoi qui t'emballe vraiment ?
  17. Catani Senior Member

    Cora Lynn, Victoria
    Australia English
    I'd like to add that it's not just asking "what turns you on?" or "what really gets you going?" or "what gets you excited?" [all suggested by 'allumer', 'brancher' and 's'emballer'].

    "What makes him tick?" is asking:

    Where's he coming from? - what experiences have shaped him?
    What are his beliefs? What's his philosophy / stance? Why does he react the way he does? What motivates him?

    In keeping with the watch or clock analogy made in some postings above, it's as if the enquirer wishes to "connaître mieux les 'rouages' de la personne"

  18. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I agree with Catani. Somewhere along the way in this conversation it got off-track into a different meaning entirely.

    "What makes you tick" has to do with the internal workings of a person. In other words, what are the beliefs, thoughts, emotional make-up, principles, background, etc., that cause you to behave the way that you do? Why do you do what you do?
  19. mytwolangs Senior Member

    English United States
    So back me up here -
    "what makes him tick" cold mean (Mostly) -
    "What angers him?"
    "What motivates him"

    Basically, what pushes him over the edge?
    It is a slang term, this "tick" when used in such a context.
  20. Cath.S.

    Cath.S. Senior Member

    Bretagne, France
    français de France
    Right, that's why I think that Olivier's early translation (motivations) was excellent.
    Now your rouages suggestion is very very good too, I really mean it, but it would be difficult to use when asking someone "what makes you tick". I also think rouages is more refined and formal vocabulary than tick is in English.
  21. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    No. :) I think you're thinking of "what ticks him off". THAT would definitely mean "what makes him angry."

    I think it's a common experience that we evaluate people and predict their behavior from some generalized understanding of particular "types" we have in our minds: he's a plodder, she's a go-getter, he's a critic, she's a leader, etc., etc. When someone behaves in a way that doesn't fit into any of our pre-determined "types", it takes us by surprise. We don't understand why they do what they do, and we can't predict what their behavior would be in a given situation.

    That is a person about whom we would say: "I don't really don't understand what makes him/her tick", or "I'd really like to know what makes him/her tick."

    I hope that helps.
  22. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Voici le petit extrait qui m'a suggéré "allume".

    What makes you tick?
    I mean, what is your inspiration? What is it that pokes, prods and nudges you and forces you to try to make something of yourself? What's that little switch that makes you want to go the extra mile in whatever you are doing?

    Catani may have a point, but is the question really that deep? :confused:
  23. Cath.S.

    Cath.S. Senior Member

    Bretagne, France
    français de France
    I'd like to understand what makes him/her tick
    j'aimerais comprendre / les mécanismes de son comportement / son fonctionnement ?
  24. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    But "what makes you tick" has a much broader meaning than that. It's not just what motivates you, drives you to work harder.

    For example, let's say some man is raised in a wealthy family, receives an excellent education, has all the best social contacts, and he decides to hang out in a homeless shelter in some obscure town, doing nothing. He spends his days wandering the town, doing an odd job here or there, and maybe writing in a journal in the evenings. He's not insane. He just has a completely different idea of how he should live his life.

    We would say: "Man... I really don't know what makes him tick." There is no motivation there, no drive to excellence, but there is some sort of internal decision or thought process that makes him think this is the way he should live.

    This seems much closer to the meaning, egueule!
  25. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    J'ai toujours pas compris comment il fonctionne... J'ai toujours pas trouvé le mode d'emploi...
  26. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    Do you have a way of speaking about the mind in French as if it were a little machine, or clockwork, or a mill turning or wheels spinning? I wish I was familiar with more French phrases. It's hard for me to imagine that there is not some common way to refer to the mind as if it were a machine.

    Catani's "rouages" seems the closest so far.

    Something like je voudrais savoir comment tournent les rouages de ta tête. (My French is horrible, please excuse me)
  27. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    James, I think "fonctionner" could work for machines too.
  28. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    Oh. Thanks. :) So, how would you say "I'd really like to know what makes him tick"?

    Je voudrais bien comprendre comment il fonctionne (?)
  29. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    Oui. :) Et je crois que ça sous-entendrait que "ça ne tourne pas très rond dans sa p'tite (*) tête"... ;)

    (*) petite.
  30. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    [quote=egueule]Right, that's why I think that Olivier's early translation (motivations) was excellent.
    Now your rouages suggestion is very very good too, I really mean it, but it would be difficult to use when asking someone "what makes you tick". I also think rouages is more refined and formal vocabulary than tick is in English.[/quote]

    That's the point I was trying to make in post #11. I think motivations/aspirations profondes is excellent, but also more refined and formal than tick.

    In my personnel placement world (examples follow) the expression is interpreted to mean what are you passionate about? Hence "allume" which clearly wasn't the right answer :eek: But I'm guessing "Qu'est-ce qui vous passionne?" wouldn't work either... and neither would "Qui êtes-vous vraiment"? Ot does it depend on context?

    What do talk show hosts want to know, when they ask their guests what makes them tick? And what do the guests answer? Do they always talk values, beliefs and philosophy? Would the host say, for example Aidez-moi à décoder les rouages de votre cerveau? Somehow... I think not.;)

    If the latter, then to render onto Cesar... back to Edginwill's post #10. :)

    Figure out what really makes you tick - are you money driven, are you community focused, whatever.

    Do you know what motivates you? Everyone has personal desires that inspire achievement. When we are truly motivated, it's amazing what we can accomplish. Knowing what makes you tick will help you succeed.

    Find out what you do well naturally, and what motivates you most. Then you can find a job that calls for what you have to offer. The best way to uncover your top motivations is a career assessment. An online assessment is the fastest, most comprehensive tool available to identify what really makes you tick.

    Find out what it is that you are passionate about, what really makes you tick, and follow a career path in which you can do this.
  31. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I still diagree with the "what are you passionate about" being equivalent to "what makes you tick." I've been trying to think of another way to draw the distinction. Here's another try.

    If there is a person and I want to know what makes him tick, I cannot walk up and ask him. In fact, I may figure out what makes him tick and hE may never be the wiser. "What makes him tick" is what causes his particular day-to-day behavior, not what passions or dreams he has that would ignite his interest in life.

    If I want to know what makes him tick, his passions are probably the last place I look. I would try to understand what defines his choices of reactions to different events, what determines his preferences in clothing and reading material, for example. What is his own self-image that he himself may not be aware of? What is he afraid of appearing to be - stupid? stuffy? lame? too clever? too forceful? too weak? unfriendly? incompetent? These are the kinds of things that make people tick.

    This has nothing to do with passion, energy, driving interests, etc. It has to do with the little quirks of daily behavior. It is rarely, if ever, directed at oneself, "What makes me tick?" It is an outward observation of another person's behavior and some investigation into what motivates that particular behavior.

    Here are some more context samples from the internet that may or may not help to define the phrase "what makes him tick":


    Hi, I have a guy friend who I am very interested in...he flirts with me, but it seems like one day he is on, and the next he is off... What is similar between us, and what is different? Finally what may be some problems that might occur. I know that he is a taurus, and I'm a cancer and generally they are compatible...but I just wanted a little info on what makes him tick. Thank you.


    I’ve been asking myself this for the past couple days: “Why?” I honestly don't feel any strong chemistry between us. I don’t think I know any more about him than any other person who has been following this adventure. I may know his eating habits or the fact that he’s a pretty strong paddler, but what makes him tick? Nope.

    {Mod note : No commercial sites, please read rule #8}

    What makes him tick?
    Why are we so different?
    Do you ever wonder why someone always has to “pick” something apart? Why do they ask for so much detail? And that other person who always seems so disorganized but has time to chit chat with everyone? And how about that other fellow who is always so bossy? Then there is that other person; nice, gets along with everyone, never rocks the boat, never goes out on a limb. Nothing seems to upset him. Sure wish he would take a stand sometimes.
  32. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    And my conclusion from this very enlightening exercise is that people interpret and use the expression to mean different things...

    And whether or not they're wrong to do so... if I had to translate my example sentences... I would have to use the words motivation (I said right from the beginning that Olivier's translation was excellent) and/or passion, somewhere. Context is everything.

    I'm officially off this thread. ;)
  33. Cath.S.

    Cath.S. Senior Member

    Bretagne, France
    français de France
    Une nouvelle proposition, basée sur l'interprétation de James - Nicomon, j'accepte volontiers le fait que d'autres puissent employer cette expression dans un autre sens. :)

    Je voudrais comprendre sa psychologie.

    L'analogie mécanique n'y est pas, désolée, je n'ai gardé que le sens.
  34. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I think that works very well, egueule, for "what makes him tick." :)

    One of things I've been reflecting on this morning after Nicomon's post is a realization that "What makes you tick?" and "What makes him tick?" are really used in two different ways. I think Nicomon's interpretation matches "What makes you tick?" very well, and that was the topic of this thread. I took it off in another direction with "What makes him/her tick."

    If someone asks "what makes you tick", they're obviously not asking "What is your psychology?" After all, who among us can explain our own psychology? When it's directed in the second person, I do think it means what Nicomon has been saying (along with others): what motivates you? what are your passions?

    If I hear someone say "I wish I knew what makes him tick" or "I'd love to know what makes him tick", I believe it's more in line with "Je voudrais comprendre sa psychologie."
  35. Cath.S.

    Cath.S. Senior Member

    Bretagne, France
    français de France
    Je trouve cette explication très convaincante, James, et je suis ravie de voir qu'en fin de compte, Nicomon et toi aviez tous les deux raison. :)
  36. Ha_na

    Ha_na Senior Member

    Banlieue de Paris
    France/je suis française
    I'd like to bring to the discussion this example found in newspaper Telegraph:
    "But Gilles-Jean Portejoie, the defence lawyer laid into Mr Jourde. He told him: "You write about their lives and their vices, you do not look for what makes them tick. You manipulated them, you played with them.''
    Vous avez écrit leurs vies et leurs vices, vous ne cherchez pas à connaître leur psychologie.
    I'm trying to find a report of these words in a French newspaper...

    I knew I could trust again WordReference :)
  37. furet Member

    Near Bordeaux
    UK, now living in France
    What a great thread! I shall throw in a few related phrases in English. If you find any of them interesting, please PM me or open a new thread.

    That’s what she gets out of bed for in the morning.
    That’s what he’s all about.
    This is our raison d’être (really!).
    Golf seems to be his sole purpose in life.
    He was put on this planet to make trouble.
  38. Donatien New Member


    I don't want to confuse you all, but I'm surprised no french speaker hasn't talked about it yet. But, we use "ticker" in french, and even though it's no real slang, it's not really formal either.
    Anyway, I use it quite often: when for instance,you're explaining something to somebody and he donesn't understand it but suddenly "ticks" and understand. To use an image it's like the bulb eventually lighted up in his mind. ie: "je lui expliquait un tableau mais il ne comprenait pas. quand il l'a vu il a tout de suite tické"" I was explaining him a paint butdidn't get what I meant. He eventually "ticked" when he saw it."

    "Ticker"means "to understand" in this context. But, it has the idea than in "what makes him tick?", there is this Catoni's "rouage" idea, this idea that suddenly the engine starts.So, so far, from what I understood there is the same in the british expression. Asking " what make you tick?" is like asking "what is the trigger factor in your reasoning/life/decision?"

    Anyway, I can't come with any formal French way to present this concept. The only try I could give is : "Qu'est-ce qu'y le fait bander?" which isn't only sexually connected but which asks " what do u like? what does push you to act ?".

    I think it sums up pretty well the concept. Because then anything could be the answered from " love", " to kill", "helping other", " the truth quest", "money", " my music passion", "discover new stuff". The only prob with it is, there is a kind of "positive" overtone. I mean, in French, the guy who reply necessarly like what makes him tick. and to me, it seems there isn't this overtone in english. to me it seems one could reply" depression".

    By the way, i'd like to know if could use" to tick" in the sense of " to understand" in english.

    I hope it will make the thread move forward.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2008
  39. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    Salut Donatien et bienvenue sur ce forum ! :)

    Je ne connais pas "ticker" en français dans le sens que tu donnes (il y aurait bien tiquer aussi, mais sans grand rapport). Ne confonds-tu pas plutôt avec "tilter" (dans le sens de comprendre) ? :confused:
  40. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Je ne connais pas non plus « ticker » dans ce sens. Je l'aurais compris comme un anglicisme de cocher (comme dans "tick box" = case à cocher)

    Je crois que Karine a raison. :) Ça fait "tilt" et non pas "tick"
    J'ajoute qu'au Québec, « tilter » a aussi ce sens :
    Edit : selon le dico de WR, faire tilt se traduit entre autres en anglais par "click" ou "ring a bell".

    Ce qui m'a fait réaliser qu'au Québec on dit aussi (et plutôt, je crois) « cliquer », dans ce sens. Et même « ça me sonne une cloche ».
    Mais bon... je crains qu'on ait dévié du sujet du fil. :eek:

    PS: « qu'est qui le fait bander » (très familier) serait pour moi équivalent de « qu'est-ce qui l'excite ».
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2008
  41. Suzieblue86 Member

    France, French
    If I can add a little something... I would say "J'aimerais comprendre ce qui se passe dans sa tête".
    That's what I would usually say when I don't know how to interpret some people's behaviour.

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