How Do You Say “Seal” in French?

This is a question that school French teachers often hear because students are interested to know if the word will actually be said.

In French, a seal is a “phoque.” It rhymes with “duck”. You see the problem. There is no polite way to say it.

Seeing the Gray Seals at L’Aquarium du Québec reminded of the many seals I saw in Antarctica while working as a cruise ship naturalist.

There are 2 kinds of seals: Fur Seals which have visible ears:

Male Fur Seal
male Fur Seals
Male Fur Seals
Antarctic Fur Seal
Antarctic Fur Seals
Antarctic Fur Seal
Leucistic Fur Seal
Even playfighting male Fur Seals can injure each other with their sharp teeth.
Preserved Fur Seal corpse. Temperatures are so cold here for most of the year that decomposition takes a very long time.

and “True” seals which do not have external ears.

Weddell seal
Mother and pup Weddell Seal
On a surface, True Seals like this Crabeater Seal must undulate like snakes in order to travel.
Crabeater Seal
Crabeater and Leopard Seals
Huge head and mouth of Leopard Seal
Leopard Seal damage
Young Elephant Seal Jousting
Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals
Elephant Seal Pup

The Gray Seals at L’Aquarium du Québec are “true” seals.

Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal
Gray Seal

MAILBOX

Hi Miles:
Here is an exotic creature we have missed watching!

This enormous eagle could have killed you, probably (nature.com)

NATURE POETRY

Seal Lullaby – Rudyard Kipling

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us, 
   And black are the waters that sparkled so green. 
The moon, o'er the combers, looks downward to find us 
   At rest in the hollows that rustle between. 
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow; 
   Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease! 
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee, 
   Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas. 

Miles Hearn

3 thoughts on “How Do You Say “Seal” in French?

  1. Lisa Volkov

    Of course, I can’t look at seals in the Quebec region without thinking of the hunt. Easier to see pictures from Antarctica! Though I caught a nature show one time from which I couldn’t look away, which included Elephant Seals engaging in brutal clashes, Orca’s seizing seals from the edge of the water–well, you get the idea. Red in Tooth and Claw. It was fascinating, but it sure took away a lot of the romantic “cute” factor, watching! Nevertheless, these are beautiful pictures of seals, which are incredible creatures, and I always appreciate being educated about animals, even when it is a bit, well, “unpleasant” at times (not here, generally–and it was really funny to hear about the French name!)
    In fact, I have become addicted to watching “The Incredible Doctor Pol” (on every day with a marathon of episodes on Thursday) who is a country vet who deals with farm animals and pets. Don’t ask. It’s very explicit. I think I may even be able to pull out a calf having trouble being born, dead or alive, and castrate a bull calf by now (probably not), whatever I think of it all!

    Reply
  2. Richard Longley

    It’s a great word. No matter how spelled, with or without flippers.

    Note also alternate, magnificent name – for the kestrel or (I was told by an ornithologist in Arizona) sharp shin hawk: wind fucker.
    Google says origin is Norse: fjuka, wind-driven.
    Origin of phoque? Dunno. Ask the Academie Francaise. They will know what to say to anyone who tries to change it.

    Reply

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