"Il porte un costume de pingouin."

Translation:He is wearing a penguin costume.

March 31, 2018

This discussion is locked.


In American English penguin costume and penguin suit are two different things. A penguin costume is a costume in which you are dressed like a penguin. A penguin suit is slang for a tuxedo.


For once, American English and British English are the same. If you are wearing a penguin costume, you are dressed as a penguin. If you are wearing a penguin suit, you are dressed like the Penguin.


But what does it mean in French?


Salut BasiaNowak3. You ask a good question! Does it have any meaning in French other than a strictly literal one – a person dressed up as a penguin?

I think that it may be only anglophones who use the phrase ‘penguin suit’ as an idiom.

Bonne journée.


Could I respectfully correct an incorrect notion in this forum. As a Brit 'of a certain age', I can vouch for the fact that, in the UK, the term 'penguin suit' does NOT imply a tuxedo ( or, as we put it, a 'dinner jacket'). A 'penguin suit' implies full morning or evening dress, including, crucially, a long jacket WITH TAILS. That is the similarity that spawned the name. Such dress is now frequently worn in the UK for weddings, and for very formal occasions, such as royal investitures, etc.


@Paul882324 - another good conversation to have. The tricky thing is understanding what one is talking about.

In the US, one might call a morning jacket "tux with tails". Would you agree?


costume = déguisement (cf wordreference)


I'm surprised that no one has asked: what are the words for men's formalwear?

Black tie? «un smoking» (seems a bit after-dinner-ish). White tie?


As a starting point:

  • white tie -> tenue de soirée
  • tailcoat -> queue-de-pie (literal translation something like "magpile tail" :)



So is a "costume de pingouin" a penguin suit (dinner jacket) or a penguin costume (penguin fancy dress)? I have assumed the latter but the thread here suggests not (?)


the other colloquial and somewhat disrespectful use of Penguin Suit in the Italian and Irish neighborhood I grew up in in NYC was for a nuns' habit and of course Penguin=nun. The term Monkey Suit was often used for a tux, I think because of the once common performances of a chimp dressed in a tuxedo.


Salut ArnoldCohe1. Thanks for that – I never knew the origin of “monkey suit”, but I think it’s a term heard more often in the US than in the UK.

And – now that you mention the US connection with nuns, if memory serves, didn’t The Blues Brothers refer to their old headmistress/ Mother Superior as “The Penguin”?

Bon weekend!


What if he's just carrying it but not wearing it?


Is this the same joke in french as it is in english?

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What's the difference between un pingouin and un manchot?

  • 1230

Thanks! However, I'm still confused of their distinction as well as the reason why there're two words in French corresponding with only one word in English.


@CP5p3 - It's interesting.

Northern hemisphere:

Southern hemisphere: the Emperor penguin, and others

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguin
  • If you read into the above, things get interesting....
    • "The word penguin first appears in the 16th century as a synonym for great auk (the now extinct Northern hemisphere bird). When European explorers discovered what are today known as penguins in the Southern Hemisphere, they noticed their similar appearance to the great auk of the Northern Hemisphere, and named them after this bird, although they are not closely related.
    • So, we've ended up with two different groups of birds where in non-technical English we use "penguin" for both.

The French still have two different words. And (just because language is never straightforward) - they use « pingouin » (well really « petit pingouin », because only the razorbill/"lesser auk" is still around) for the Northern hemisphere bird...

And the French 'technical/accurate' word for the Southern hemisphere birds is « manchot » (which are what the English speaking world usually thinks of as penguins). Fun eh?

But we're not done! This sentence (using penguin suit) is colloquial. So the course designers have decided to translate it using « pingouin » (technically meaning a greater awk), but today generally brings to mind one of the Southern hemisphere birds. This might be because the nickname "penguin suit" may have originated from when the greater awk were still around. That one I don't know; we'd need an etymologist to figure that out.

Edit: I should add that it's possible that colloquial french has begun to use « pingouin » for the Southern Hemisphere birds. All of the above is slightly on the 'technical' side to answer your question as to why there are two French words.

(Grin! Language....)

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Wow, great answer! So the 'emperor penguins' in La Marche de l'Empereur are manchots rather than pingouins? When I hear penguin I will always assume the Antarctica one, and I would probably have mistaken pingouins for penguins without getting your explication. Here's my lingot for you!


Fun isn't it? And if you look at the habitat map for the razorbill, aka « petit pingouin » - some of its territory is in coastal France.


Salut W-Ruggles-Wolfe and CP5p3. May I compliment you both on a fascinating and erudite exchange! Such is the power and the allure of Duo discussion groups.

However, on a small point, may I return to my original thesis that this exercise is about ‘formal dress’ and not ‘fancy dress’? Duo is at pains to teach us, time and time again, that the usual translation of “costume” is “suit”. Therefore, in this particular exercise, it seems apparent that we are not concerned with party-wear - as Bouchka1 points out “costume = déguisement”.

Hence, a reference to “un costume de pingouin”, refers to formal “white tie” (full evening dress with tails). Although “morning dress” is also worn with tails, the trousers are ‘pinstriped’ and grey – and I confess that I have never seen a pinstriped penguin!

Bonne journée!


Both "costume" and "déguisement" are translations of "costume": https://www.wordreference.com/enfr/costume

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@Paul882324 I agree that un costume de pingouin is literally a penguin suit rather than a penguin costume, as the latter one would translate as un costume de manchot (because people are less likely to dress like a razorbill or a great auk than an Antarctic penguin). As for your alleged white lie interpretation, I don't think DL is teaching us language in depth at this stage so it's implausible.


Salut W-Ruggles-Wolfe and CP5p3. CP5p3, I cannot help but agree with your logic. However, I was only pointing out the most common and hence obvious interpretation of the phrase for those of us on the eastern edge of the Atlantic (the ‘slang’ reference to a particular form of formal men’s dress). I merely added that such dress is known as “white tie”. This differentiates it from “morning dress”, which uses the same black tail coat, but with grey pinstripe trousers, rather than the black trousers which are ‘de rigeur’ for evening occasions.

As to your allegations of implausibility, I have to say that I personally find it even more unlikely that Duo is talking about people going around dressed as great auks, razorbills, or any other exotic creature!

W-Ruggles-Wolfe, sadly, I must confess to ignorance on the subject of US formal menswear. However, I can tell you that, in the UK, one would never wear even a formal black/ white ‘jacket/ tuxedo’ as part of “morning dress”. It has to be “tails”. And, in all honesty, I couldn’t describe it as a “tux with tails”, because that might imply that the “tails” are an optional, detachable, extra. Also, the cut and style of a tailcoat is completely different to the styling of a tux or “DJ” (dinner jacket”). However, as you say, yet another fascinating conversation thanks to the wonders of Duo’s discussion groups.

Long may they (and both of you guys) survive and prosper!

Bonne journée.


Bonjour piguy3. As ever, I salute your dedication and commitment to detail!

Thank you for your reference making me aware that a “pingouin” is not, in fact, a penguin. This alone will cause a lot of unnecessary confusion for many students (myself included!)

However, I still fail to envision this bizarre parallel universe in which people choose to dress up as, (unless you’re a dedicated ornithologist), little known marine birds of any latitude or hemisphere.

I’ll bet you couldn’t go into any costumier/ fancy dress shop in the world and come out with a great auk suit, or a razorbill suit! I rest my case ;-)

Bonne journée!


As to the course's use of "pingouin" vs. "manchot" https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/26780853 (especially's sitesurf's reply to Ripcurlgirl)

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