pisser dans un violon

charcholle

Senior Member
French France
Hi,
Is there an equivalent in English to this French expression? I could just translate it but there is surely something more idiomatic to say...
The context is: "j'ai essaye de t'en parler mais ca n'a pas eu plus d'effet que si j'avais pisse dans un violon"
Thank you

Charlotte
 
  • suzanne joy

    Member
    U.S.
    When we talk to someone who doesn't pay attention/care about what we're saying, we use this expression:

    I'd have spoken to you about it, but that would have been like talking to a wall.
     

    harbottle

    Senior Member
    Australia; English
    For this sentence, I would put "it was like talking to a wall".

    For something useless in general, "raking water uphill" works, but I hadn't heard the expression until I read this thread (anyone would understand you, though). I'm not sure that we have many other idiomatic expressions meaning a useless action. We have plenty of idiomatic expressions for useless objects, though...
     

    Gargamelle

    Senior Member
    I think that with "pisser dans un violon," the other person still isn't listening to you, but the emphasis of the idiom is how absurd it is even to try to talk to this person who isn't listening, because it's absurd to pisser "dans un violon" "Talking to a wall," on the other hand, puts the emphasis on the not-listening because a wall can't hear or respond...and, of course, talking to a wall is also absurd.

    Ahh, nuance.....;)



    Gargamelle
     

    SwissPete

    Senior Member
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    Nothing new as far as translation, but here is a possible explanation of the origin of the expression : Il semblerait qu'on ait dit autrefois "souffler" ou "siffler dans un violon" pour signifier que quelque chose était inefficace ou inutile. En effet, le violon étant un instrument à cordes, il n'en sortira jamais aucun son si l'on souffle ou si l'on siffle dedans. Il semblerait qu'on ai ensuite utilisé le verbe "pisser" pour donner un effet comique à la locution, son sens restant le même.

    There is a thread on the same subject in the Espanol-Français forum.
     

    poliphili

    Senior Member
    USA-English
    Hi all,

    The expression "C'est comme si on pissait dans un violon" is not at all used exclusively to mean interaction with people. It is broader than that and can describe activities in general that remain ineffective because of the absurdity of their operation. So, yes, it's absurd to speak to someone who isn't listening, so the expression can apply, but the expression itself has a broader meaning than that, as it refers to a futile activity in general.

    That said, we can't draw a strict equivalence between this expression and "talking to a brick wall". I think the English expression that comes closest in generality to the French one is the one Gargamelle put forward: "It's like herding cats", since such an activity, in the end, is futile (they won't herd), stupid (they aren't sheep), and self-destructive (they'll scratch you) - quite like "pisser dans un violon" which taken literally is futile (it won't create a nice sound), stupid (it isn't a urinal, though see SwissPete's comment for another reason why it's stupid) and self-destructive (you're ruining a perfectly good violin!).

    jk
     
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    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Talking to a brick wall is very appropriate in this specific context.

    It's like herding cats/...knitting fog/...nailing a blancmange to a wall (= accrocher un flan à un clou) will all work in more general contexts.
     

    petit1

    Senior Member
    français - France
    One day, a funny surgeon told me taht he could operate my leg but that it would be like "pisser dans un violon", meaning totally useless. It reminds me of another French expression : "Ce serait comme mettre un cataplasme (or un cathéter) sur une jambe de bois.

    "Pisser dans un violon" doesn't express indifference (to what people say) but the futility of doing something. For example, one day, a funny-speaking surgeon told me that he could operate my leg but it would be like "pisser dans un violon". Which reminds me of another French expression with the same meaning:
    "mettre un cataplasme (or mettre un cathéter) à (ou sur) une jambe de bois."
     
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    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Français, Québec ♀
    Je réanime ce vieux fil sur lequel j'ai abouti à partir d'un autre fil.

    J'ajoute ce qui suit pour confirmer ce que SwissPete a écrit au post 5, quant à l'origine :
    Ëtre inutile, inefficace.
    Origine :
    Cette expression date du XIXe siècle. « Pisser » est un mot péjoratif qui signifie « uriner ». Il est employé ici en remplacement du verbe « souffler » ou « siffler ». Effectuer cette action dans un violon ne permettra pas d'obtenir de la musique. Le faire est donc inutile.
    Source : C'est comme pisser dans un violon : signification et origine de l'expression

    Il y a aussi cette page du site Expressio - avec traductions dans diverses langues en bas de page :
    Pisser dans un violon – Expressio par Reverso
    J'ajoute l'entête seulement :
    Ne servir à rien.
    Faire quelque chose de complètement inutile, inefficace.
     
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    broglet

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hi Itisi - The original expression is "pissing into the wind" and it has rather a specialised meaning - that what you are doing backfires (or backsplashes :eek: ) against you and makes your own situation worse - which means a bit more than that what you are doing has no effect at all. The expression goes back a long way - 1642 G. Torriano Sel. Ital. Prov. 19 He who pisseth against the wind, wetteth his shirt. The "pissing in the wind" form is of recent origin and may have come to mean just wasting one's time.
    Of course, pissing in a violin is by no means an activity without negative consequences - and if it is not your own violin its owner would surely have something to say. To choose the best translation, as always, requires knowledge of the full context.
     
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    Itisi

    Senior Member
    English UK/French
    The expression now means
    "To do something totally pointless, fruitless, or futile; to waste one's time doing something that will not or cannot come to pass."
     

    Aliph

    Senior Member
    Italian
    What about the idioms “ you can’t get honey from a rock” or “you can’t get blood from a turnip”? They are as colorful as the French “pisser dans un violon”.
     

    broglet

    Senior Member
    English - England
    What about the idioms “ you can’t get honey from a rock” or “you can’t get blood from a turnip”? They are as colorful as the French “pisser dans un violon”.
    Wonderful! (the usual less colourful saying is "it's like trying to get blood out of a stone")
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Français, Québec ♀
    Hello Itisi :)

    The definition that you quoted is also that of « pisser dans un violon ».
    He who pisseth against the wind, wetteth his shirt.
    Which can be translated as : À pisser contre le vent on mouille sa chemise.
    There are « variants » in this thread, with the idea of backfiring : It's like pissing in the wind

    And while they are colorful and could work in various contexts, including that of this thread, I'm not sure the stone/turnip expressions mean exactly the same thing. They mean trying something that's (nearly) impossible, rather than useless. I think it's closer to : vider la mer à la petite cuillère.
    Impossible or extremely difficult to accomplish.
    If you say something is like getting blood out of a stone, you mean it is extremely difficult to persuade someone to give you money or information.
    I found this previous thread : get blood out of a stone / squeeze blood from a turnip

    In the page from Expressio that I linked to, someone suggested : carry coals to Newcastle
     
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    Aliph

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Concerning useless efforts, there would be also the expression « to bring water to the sea » which is more universal than « to carry coals to Newcastle « .
     
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